Police and on-location responders need emergency training
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published in slightly modified form by Grand Junction Free Press on April 30, 2007.
In 1998, a student hero stopped a young killer at an Oregon high school. Jacob Ryker, who was familiar with firearms, knew when the killer was out of ammunition. Even though Ryker had been shot, he charged the killer, "tackled him, and disarmed him," notes an article from Reason magazine ("Loaded Coverage").
An April 17 story from The New York Times describes the scene during the Virginia Tech murders: "Every so often, the shots paused for a minute or so. That was the gunman... stopping to reload."
Law enforcement officers called to the scene of a mass murder typically arrive too late or react too slowly. This points to the need for better training not only for law enforcement but for on-location responders. Virginia Tech could have used somebody like Ryker.
Learning the basics of self-defense is prudent. At the same time, we should also keep a sense of perspective. According to National Vital Statistics Reports, murder didn't make the top 15 causes of death for 2004. Unintentional injuries comes in at number 5, suicide at number 11. The rest are health-related. The FBI lists the number of murders for 2004 as 16,137, or 0.67 percent of the total 2,398,365 deaths. Still, as you watch your health, drive safely, and avoid needless risks, you should also learn how to handle yourself in a crisis.
Alon Stivi knows something about crisis management. He's a former member of the Israeli Special Forces. An advisory board member for the University of California at Irvine's Center for Unconventional Security Affairs. An advisor and trainer for federal, state, and local government agencies, including the Navy SEALs and various Western Slope departments. A training advisor for the International Association of Counter Terrorism and Security Professionals. And a reserve deputy with the Los Angeles Sheriff Department. Your elder author has learned from him and assisted with his local efforts.
As president of Direct Measures International, Inc., Stivi developed a training program for on-location responders that he hopes is adopted by schools. Recently he wrote more about that for the Independence Institute (i2i.org).
Stivi also actively trains first responders, the officers called to the scene. He writes for The Journal of Counter Terrorism and Homeland Security International: "First Responders need to intervene and engage the threat/s without delay. The inside of a crowded school is one of the most challenging environments in which officers can be called upon to operate. Unknown structures, multiple doors, extremely crowed lines of fire, panic-stricken bystanders, and the possibility of suspects hiding within, makes intervention and rescue a complex task."
One week after 9/11, seven law enforcement agencies from the Grand Valley sent representatives to a First Responders Training Course taught by Stivi. This course consists of classroom instruction and active exercises in the old Palisade High School. While your junior author once learned math and English in the building, now the facility is used to train officers to confront an active shooter. These are high-stress but effective exercises.
This training was hosted by the Police Chief of Palisade, Carroll Quarles. The Chief's own training and police background is what makes Palisade one of the safer communities to live in. By sponsoring a First Responders course, Quarles benefited not only Palisade but the entire valley.
In March of this year, the Mesa County Sheriffs Department held another First Responder Course. More than seventy officers completed the course. Lieutenant Galvan, the Professional Standards and Training Officer for the department, helped to coordinate the event.
However, Stivi points out that training can't stop with the police. He notes that, statistically, by the time the First Responder arrives most of the destruction has already occurred.
Alon said, "Terror attacks of September 11 have taught us that inaction, when faced with perpetrators bent on self-destruction, will lead to disaster. There are simple and proven last-resort survival measures that a determined group of people can use to collectively resist and stop an armed aggressor in a confined space. School staff as well as students must be trained in these measures and learn how to work together with law enforcement."
He said his program "offers clear, step-by-step measures that can be taught as part of every school curriculum. It will greatly improve school crisis response capabilities and reduce future casualties if it is adopted as a National School Safety Standard."
Even if such a program involved only some staff members and students, it would make a big difference in deterring criminals, stopping potential acts of violence in progress, giving students useful life-long skills, and fostering a greater sense of security and confidence among faculty members and students.
Students used to pour out of the old Palisade High School for fire drills. We hope local schools will consider adding crisis drills, too.