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Program takes multi-faceted approach to active shooter training

The First 12 Minutes, developed by the City of Falls Church, Va., provides training to administrators, teachers and school staff


The program consists of 1.5-hour lecture portion and a second 1.5-hour section of hands-on training.

Photo/City of Falls Church, Va. via TechBeat

This article is taken from the May 2019 issue of eTechBeat, published by the Justice Technology Information Center, a component of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center System, a program of the National Institute of Justice, (800) 248-2742.

By Becky Lewis
TechBeat Magazine

In the first few minutes of an active shooter incident, individuals at the scene face the threat alone, often unsure what to do. Hide? Run away? Counter the shooter? And what about helping the victims?

The First 12 Minutes, a multi-faceted training developed by the City of Falls Church, Va., provides training to administrators, teachers and school staff that addresses all of those areas, all within a three-hour window and all at no charge to the participating schools.

The program consists of 1.5-hour lecture portion and a second 1.5-hour section of hands-on training. During the lecture, representatives from the city’s emergency services provide historical background on active shooter incidents in the United States and discuss response options such as enhanced lockdown, evacuation and confronting the shooter. The hands-on portion splits participants into three rotating groups: one practices barricading doors with anything and everything within reach, one learns Stop the Bleed techniques to include tourniquets and packing wounds, and the third goes through two lockdown scenarios: the traditional lockdown where everyone moves to a corner, then another where participants work together to plan, swarm and attempt to stop the shooter.

“If you don’t start by giving them the data about why it’s important to think about, decide on and collaborate on a response, and why it’s important to provide immediate first aid, then they won’t buy into the hands-on portion,” says Tom Polera, city fire marshal and emergency manager. “If they understand why they’re doing something, they’re more likely to retain the knowledge.”

That’s the reason, he says, for running through the lockdown training twice: when the participants sit clustered in a corner, the “shooter” usually hits the entire group with simunition (nerf) projectiles. During the second run, the swarming tactics usually bring the shooter down with few casualties.

“That’s the true ‘ah-ha’ moment when they realize why they’re learning the importance of working together, deciding who’s going to grab at each limb, who’s going for the gun, and who’s going to throw things to distract the shooter,” Polera says. “And none of this is once and done. They need to continue to practice this way when they do lockdown drills in school. We try to keep the first aid simple but they need to practice it as well.”

In addition, the training also emphasizes the importance of clear and accurate messaging during an emergency situation. Often, Polera says, teachers and students only know that a lockdown has been called, and they don’t know why it’s being called. It could be because there was a bank robbery nearby or an active shooter in the building, and knowing that shooter’s location is also critical. If teachers know the shooter is on the opposite side of the building, they have the information they need to evacuate their students to safety: “It’s all about making an informed decision at the classroom level.”

Falls Church began implementing the training program in April 2018 and trained more than 500 participants in the first nine months. Polera became a certified instructor for a program that uses these principles and worked with other members of the city’s emergency services to develop The First 12 Minutes for use in local schools, government facilities, businesses, houses of worship, and more.

“The training doesn’t fit neatly into any one department, but requires cooperation from various types of emergency services, and by doing it this way, it also helps build a rapport between first responders and the community,” Polera says. The team uses feedback obtained during the training to constantly refine and improve The First 12 Minutes, and from this experience, Polera offers this advice to other jurisdictions looking to set up similar programs: Be sure the training fits into a reasonable timeframe and is comprehensive to incorporate the Stop the Bleed component.

“You hear a lot about other potential school safety solutions, but not a lot about training for teachers. Teachers are the first first responders and overwhelmingly, our teachers are thankful for being taught something empowering,” Polera says. “For anyone who has a hard time accepting it, I say this is the new normal and this is how we need to prepare for it.”

For more information, email Tom Polera here.

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