With active shootings seemingly reoccurring on a weekly basis, we need an analytical approach that removes certain emotional factors from the encounter to determine the effectiveness of the training that is being provided. Without question every encounter is horrific and leaves behind a trail of emotional, psychological and physical damage to the victims, survivors and their families. However, if we have any hope of stemming off such actions we must first evaluate just how effective our countermeasures are to determine whether a course correction is needed or not. A simple examination of the casualties left behind is simply not sufficient in determining the effectiveness.
In 2007 the Virginia Tech shooting carried out by Seung-Hui Cho surpassed the previous highest casualty producing incident (Columbine High School in 1999 with 34 casualties) with the death toll reaching 32 and 17 injured bringing the total casualties to 49. In 1999 school shootings were relatively unheard of and training was sparse at best. In the aftermath of the Columbine shooting though many began to take seriously the need for public policy changes within the school system and law enforcement alike. By 2007 the development of the “Run, Hide, Fight” doctrine was in full swing and in place at many schools and universities. So, this begs the question: is the increase in casualties an indicator of the potential failure of training being provided? To answer this, we must look at yet another shooting.
In 2017 Sutherland Springs, Texas became synonymous with the worst church shooting in modern U.S. history when Devin Patrick Kelley exited his vehicle in full body armor and began shooting through the exterior of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. He then proceeded to enter the church and, according to those who reviewed the video captured by the church, went aisle by aisle executing the congregants of the church. All indications are that the only reason Kelley then exited the church was that all the congregants had either been injured or killed in the attack. This becomes a pivotal piece of information in that an attack is likely to continue until such time as the perpetrator either runs out of time (by virtue of armed resistance), runs out of ammunition, or in this case runs out of victims. In the aftermath of the shooting 26 congregants had been killed and 20 more injured bringing the total casualty count to 46, just under that of the 49 students killed at the Virginia Tech massacre.
To determine the effectiveness of the training and gauge whether minor adjustments are necessary or a complete overhaul, we must examine something more than merely the total casualties produced. To be specific we must examine the total number of casualties produced in comparison to the total number of casualties possible. This equates to a Percent of Casualty (PoC) that we can then use to determine just how effective our counter-measures are against such attacks.
In the case of Columbine High School, there were no counter-measures in place at the school at the time. The shooting began at 11:19 am and continued until the two shooters committed suicide at 12:08 pm. The students were armed with 4 firearms, 4 knives and explosives indicating they were capable of further bloodshed if permitted by time. However, the arrival of the police hastened the suicide of the shooters ending the massacre. With 34 casualties produced in the attack out of 1965 total students enrolled the PoC comes in at 1.78%. This means that nearly 2% of the enrolled student body (not counting teachers and staff) fell victim to the shooting. Looking at these numbers is comparison to the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, although it produced a greater number of casualties, it also had a much greater number of potential casualties with 25,791 students enrolled at the University. The PoC for the Virginia Tech shooting then stands at 0.19%. There were several factors that contributed to the substantial decrease in PoC.
First, the Virginia Tech campus is spread out over 2,600 acres in multiple structures. This type of compartmentalization, although never intended to be used for the purpose of security, certainly lends itself useful in isolating potential shooters to denying access to the remainder of the student body, allowing for the training which they had received to take effect. Second, the 8-minute response time from the time the emergency call went out to the time police were able to arrive and breach the barricaded building presented itself as the limiting factor to the continuation of the incident. When all was said and done the comparison between the two incidents certainly yields itself as evidence that design, training and coordination all work in conjunction to limit the number of potential casualties.
This data in and of itself however is meaningless if not compared to other samples in recent history to serve as placebo (without the aid of planning and/or training). Although not as highly publicized the West Nickel Mines Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania serves as one of the placebo accounts.
Whether for religious, financial or merely the lack of perceived need this small private school in Pennsylvania did not possess an active shooter plan when a shooter entered the school, killing 5 and injuring 5 more. The total casualty count of 10 seems to pale in comparison to that of the aforementioned schools however, with a total enrollment of only 26 students the PoC is brought up to a staggering 38.46%. Some of the contributing factors that led to the higher PoC was the fact that no measures were in place at the school. Additionally, the fact that the school building was isolated to a signal structure aided in corralling the students into one place and eliminating the possible use of the run, hide, fight methodology.
While this incident serves as one of the worst-case scenarios, the final facility serves as the most devastating in recent U.S. history. The First Baptist Church of Sutherland mentioned earlier produced a total casualty count of 46 however, it also had an estimated attendance of between 30-50 congregants. This puts even a conservatively estimated PoC at 92-100%, making it by far the deadliest active shooting in modern history and a glaring example that no one is exempt from considering the possibility encountering an active shooter.
Unfortunately, active shootings have become the new normal. Denying that fact or becoming emotionalized by the data only serves to cloud our judgement on how we are to proceed. We have seen great improvement with the inclusion of training within the school system and the rise of awareness within the civilian populous as a whole. The greatest degrees of damage then are almost always centered around those sectors who feel that they themselves have no need for security, response planning or training. While some advocate the inclusion of armed security within every school, church or commercial facility; the reality is an armed presence is only one of three components that have a direct effect on the overall outcome. However, by its very nature an armed presence only seeks to limit the damage as an armed presence is always one step behind the attack. The greatest results can only be achieved through proper planning and training, in addition to that of an armed presence.
As evidenced here the Run, Hide, Fight training has produced positive results that have ultimately led to lives saved. However, as stated in my previous article “Active Shooting: An Evolving Threat Requiring an Updated Solution”, this rate of improvement cannot be maintained without a measure of adaptability.
As each incident evolves, the data must be examined and the questioned asked, is the model still viable or in need of overhaul? This is a question that will need to be repeated for the foreseeable future until such time as mankind decides to honor the age-old commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”.
Security Specialist, Tactical Intelligence International President, Redbeard Combatives, Inc.
Vice President, Automated Consulting Services, Inc.
About the Author:
Ben has over 13 years of experience working with the DoD and Private Security sectors, with a focus on training, physical security, and vulnerability assessments. He has deployed multiple times to austere locations including the Middle East and South America, as well as numerous at sea deployments providing training in vessel security aboard commercial ships transiting high-risk waters. Ben was the Assistant Team Leader on a US Department of State contract supporting humanitarian operations in Bolivia and Peru, conducting site security surveys and PSD operations in areas of civil unrest. He further provided physical security and personnel escort duties, working alongside U.S. military personnel at a forward operating base in Northern Afghanistan. Ben has provided courses of instruction in combatives to Army’s 101st Airborne Division and members of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and is one of TII’s primary self-defense and hand-to-hand combat instructors.
Additionally, Ben holds rating of general contractor in the state of Florida with experience in design and construction supervision of over 150 hotels, and countless other commercial developments. He is an experienced civil and structural designer with over 20 years’ experience in the field.
Schools: Ben possess an education in Intelligence Studies from American Military University, with advanced certifications in Counter Intelligence. He is a certified protection specialist, weapons instructor, and Florida Licensed Private Investigator.