‘Duck and Cover’ is not the answer

Feb. 4, 2013
Experts say that playing the victim can substantially decrease your survival odds in an active shooter scenario

Those of us who belong to the Baby Boomer generation remember growing up with government public service films when we were in elementary and middle school — yes I said 16mm film not video. Raise your hand if you are old enough to remember teasing the AV geek in school!

Back in the 1950s and 60s, the feds had launched their campaign of “duck and cover” — a strategy aimed to help school kids survive a nuclear holocaust by hiding under desks. When you’re 10 years old, it sounded like a great plan. Now, those old black-and-white PSAs were comical at best and misleading at worst, if their objectives were to heighten awareness.

Turn the clock ahead 50 years and we see nothing has really changed. Recent mass shooting tragedies at Virginia Tech, in a movie theater in Colorado, at a United States Army base in Texas and most recently at an elementary school in Connecticut, have elicited the traditional government knee-jerk solutions. Let’s toss out some gun control legislation that has little chance of addressing the social issues that remain the root cause of gun violence. Let’s whip the public into a Second Amendment furor that moves us even further away from civil discourse. And by all means, let’s launch a new barrage of PSAs that are about as useful as hiding under a desk to survive a nuclear holocaust.

The Department of Homeland Security, along with several state and municipal public safety groups have been busy producing public service videos arming the general population with invaluable information on how to survive an active shooter incident at their place of employment or at school.

The DHS video, “Options for Consideration” (see the video in the “related content” section to the right) recommends several plausible options for people who get caught in an active shooter situation: They should run away, take cover out of the line of fire, block the door with a heavy piece of furniture, arm themselves with a pair of scissors, or an option us old folks are familiar with, hide under your desk! No, you can’t make this stuff up.

The DHS defines an active shooter as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area, and in most cases active shooters use firearms and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.

I was curious to see what an actual expert, who deals with active shooter scenarios and teaches countermeasures to both public law enforcement and private security officers, thought about the message these videos convey to the uninitiated. Vaughn Baker, Vice President of Strategos International LLC, was not a big fan. The veteran law enforcement officer with special tactics and S.W.A.T. expertise cautioned that although there are tidbits of credible information to be had, most of what you see could get you killed rather than save your skin.

“We are very familiar with these videos and the DHS mindset as a whole of ‘run, hide, fight’, and we are not a fan of this terminology or what they infer to the public. We believe ‘run, hide, fight’ sends the wrong message,” says Baker, who added that there is also a good deal of information provided that is conflicting with the main theme.

Baker stressed that the terminology of run and hide convey more defensive and victim-type words, with fight being the only offensive option. He said that provides a “conflicting mindset” to those who view the video. Instead of playing the perfect victim, which Baker and others who have negative reaction to the videos say is the overriding tone, his group is more a proponent of the ‘3 OUT’ principle. This stands for Lock Out, Get Out and Take Out. While some may argue that this is merely an exercise in semantics, Baker insisted there are marked differences.

“In Lock Out we are utilizing gross motor skills that do not require a key and that also advocate continually reinforcing the Lock Out or Lock Down effect by layering via barricading, bridging, tying off a door to a fixed object or using the tie off to create friction points, like jamming a straight chair leg or other object into a handicap approved door handle on a door that opens out, or stacking heavy objects in front of the door,” Baker says.

The second principle is Get Out, which is employed if lockdown fails or is not an option. Baker recommend locating your Get Out points, which is similar to the ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ mantra except that the DHS approach advocates doing so first. In his expert opinion using escape as a first option could put those that are in a somewhat safe and secure area in harm’s way.

"Our experience in training scenarios taught us that it is very difficult for people to tell where the shots are coming from. Because of this they may run into an area where the gunman is shooting,” Baker says. “The hide mantra that they teach is totally defensive and in the videos they state ‘Don’t corner yourself in where you cannot escape’. But right after stating that they show people hiding under their desks or in their cubicle areas. Again, this is conflicting messaging. We have seen repeatedly in Columbine (in the library), Virginia Tech (in the classrooms) and in Sandy Hook (in the classrooms) that hiding underneath desks only makes it easier for the attacker.

Quite literally the attacker was shooting ducks on a very close pond,” Baker continues. “We repeatedly tell our course attendees that it is okay to kneel to conceal yourself and get out of the line of fire, but do not put yourself in the fetal position.”

Baker went on to say that he instructs his students to kneel and maintain good posture so the mind does not start thinking defensively. He insists that once a person cradles into a fetal position they automatically assume the role of a helpless victim.

The final tenant of Baker’s program revolves around ‘Take Out’— which he teaches as a last resort. Students are taught to identify objects that they can fight back with if the attacker is able to make it into the room. Experience has demonstrated that in these types of situations a force of two or three people can be quite formidable against an attacker.
“It is good to remember that most shooters came there thinking everyone would act like good little victim. When this does not occur it dramatically affects their plan and the motivation for continuing the attack before implementing their escape strategy, which many times is suicide,” Baker says.

Obviously, no one plans to be the victim of an active shooter, and how one might act under the actual stress of a horrific circumstance like Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech is impossible to gauge. However well-intended our governments are in providing us survival tips and tactics in such cases, would it not be preferable for the politicians to keep an eye on remedying the societal cause and effect and not use the instrument of destruction as the monster in the closet?

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