Northwest Ohio school employees join area law enforcement for 16 hour active killer training class in Williams Co. school
by Chad D. Baus
On the weekend of March 2 and 3, 2013, both Buckeye Firearms Foundation President Jim Irvine and I were privileged to attend an Active Killer in Schools training course in the Williams Co., OH community of Edgerton.
The training was conducted by the Tactical Defense Institute (TDI), a world-renowned training facility based in Adams Co., OH that is owned and operated by former SWAT Team commander John Benner.
There were more than 70 people in the 16 hour class. I didn’t take an official count, but I would estimate that somewhere north of half were school employees.
While TDI has been conducting active killer classes for quite some time, the focus has primarily been on the instruction of law enforcement. Benner said this class was the first which combined a large number of school employees/ educators along with area law enforcement officers.
According to Dr. Jamison Grime, superintendent of the Montpelier, OH school district that made international news when they became the first Ohio school to publicly announce plans to arm some employees, every district in Williams County received an invitation to attend the training.
While I don’t have the entire roster, I can report that at least six school districts had representatives who took the training. At least two Williams Co. law enforcement agencies, Edgerton and Edon, sent officers to take the training. Montpelier’s former police chief, who very recently retired, was also in attendance.
Four of the six schools who had employees in the training are fortunate to have Boards of Education which have, according to published reports, already authorized, or announced intent to authorize, some level of armed response inside the school – Edgerton, Hilltop, Montpelier and Stryker.
History and Statistical Analysis
Benner began the training early Saturday morning with a three hour seminar. After introducing his team of highly qualified instructors, students were given information on the history of mass murders in American schools. Benner also gave a brief history of the changes over the years in law enforcement response to these events.
Students were told about the three levels of active killers:
- Single persons or multiple persons with very little planning (Sandy Hook)
- One or two people with prior training who have conducted advanced planning, created obstacles and possibly also implemented the use of IEDs (Columbine)
- Single terrorist on a personal jihad (Ft. Hood) or multiple terrorists (Beslan, Russia)
As he walked students through some of the mass killing events that have occurred, and throughout the rest of the training, Benner never named the killers by name, but instead referred to them “the little cowards.” He noted that the media have played a part in escalating the frequency and severity of these attacks by giving the little cowards what they want – notoriety.
Benner noted the unfortunate reality that there have been enough of these attacks that we can build a statistical picture that can help us in training. He pointed out that 98% of the little cowards have acted alone, that 80% will use a long-gun, and that 75% will have multiple firearms. He stressed that most continue the attack until someone either stops or confronts them, and provided research from Ohio’s Ron Borsch which shows that about 70% of the time these killers have been stopped by a person at the scene, while only roughly 30% are stopped by law enforcement. Students were told that Borsch’s research also shows that if the killers are stopped at the scene, we lose 2 – 3 people, whereas if we wait for law enforcement, the victim county jumps to 14 – 16 people on average.
Continuing with the statistical research, Benner noted that the little cowards rarely take hostages, they do not negotiate, and they try to avoid contact with police. He noted that their hit ratio is 50% or less. While noting that the law enforcement hit ratio is much, much lower (somewhere between 10 and 15%), the fact that active killers have a higher hit ratio doesn’t prove they are good shots. In fact, Benner said it proves how poor they are, since in many cases their victims are sitting still (or hiding or cowering), at very close range, waiting to be shot, and they offer no threat to the killer. Benner stressed that because we know the little cowards only hit 50% of their shots, we can be confident that “they will be no contest for a competent armed civilian or law enforcement officer.”
Working together and Fighting to win
Several times throughout the training, Benner stressed the importance of law enforcement training and working with armed citizens. He pointed out that they’re interested, they spend their own money to receive training, and “they’re as good or better with a gun that law enforcement.” He also mentioned that in all of his years of training he has only had one former student be arrested for anything serious, but that he’s had more former students who were law enforcement officers arrested! The point he kept stressing to the departments in attendance – “Train with them.”
Benner also addressed the type of mental preparation that is necessary to be ready to provide an armed response to an active killer. He told attendees that “this is a shoot situation – there are no half-measures.”
“Others are depending on you,” he continued. “In that moment, you’re the single most important person in the world to everyone under the gun. Don’t give them a chance to win.”
Benner then conducted an action/ reaction drill to reinforce his point, showing that a person could raise his hand from waist level and “aim” it at an opponent in the time it took for the opponent to drop his thumb to simulate the firing of a finger gun already aimed. This lesson was reinforced even more the following day, when I watched as a law enforcement officer running a force-on-force scenario was “shot” when he reverted to his previous training and gave an order to the “active killer” to drop his gun.
Benner also sought to anticipate and address fears that some armed responders may have.
- “How many are there? 98% of the time, it’s just one.”
- “Am I going to be ambushed? It hasn’t ever happened.”
- “Am I outgunned? If you’re competent with your handgun, it’s all you need. Don’t waste time to run for a rifle.”
When Seconds Count…
Perhaps the single most eye-opening part of his presentation, and a lesson that was also born out time and again in the force-on-force training that was conducted the following day, was the fact that “time is the single most-important factor.” Quoting from Ron Borch’s “Stop Watch of Death” research,” Benner informed the 70+ attendees the average mass murderer kills about five victims every minute, with the current record being eight (Virginia Tech). He said that the average time for the first call to go to 911 in a spree killing event is two minutes. He said the time for the 911 center to dispatch law enforcement can be anywhere from 45 seconds to three minutes, and the time for law enforcement to arrive can depend on location (rural/ urban) and traffic, but that it is typically at least three minutes, and often as many as eight, 10 or even more. Finally, he said that the time it can take for law enforcement to enter the building and locate and engage the target can easily be another one to three minutes.
As he was going through the time line, and using the minimum times and a conservative rate of four killed per minute, Benner informed tables full of people that they were now “dead.” By the end of the lesson, almost 30 people had been “killed” in Benner’s demonstration.
The point, Benner said, is that by reducing the time before the killer is confronted, we can reduce the body count. And the way to reduce the time is to have the first responder on site when the killer begins this attack.
Unarmed and Armed Response
The seminar also addressed several options for response for people who are unarmed, and indeed, there were at approximately 10 people who, at the start of the class, identified themselves as people who were solely seeking unarmed response training (it is worth noting that several of those decided to come back and participate in the armed response training on the second day).
Along with many other steps that he advises armed responders should follow, Benner advised on some of the physiological effects that one can expect in a violent encounter, and taught the technique of tactical breathing, which can reduce the effects and allow the responder the ability to continue the fight.
After lunch, attendees were broken into three groups, each of which contained both school employees and law enforcement, and dispersed to different areas of the school building.
TDI instructors began teaching tactics of moving about the school building to engage an active killer.
Throughout the afternoon, students were taught corner rounding, how to navigate hallways filled with panicked students and/or victims, how to navigate stairwells, and how to perform room entry / clearance. They were also taught how to work in these environments with or without a partner.
During this portion of the class, the unarmed staff were given instruction on critical thinking skills, escape & evasion tactics, how to barricade a room, how to ambush, fighting skills using environmental assistance, and how to handle found weapons.
When the class resumed early Sunday morning, the three groups were again dispersed into different areas of the building. For the entire day, students participated in scenario-based force-on-force training using airsoft pistols.
Benner ensured attendees that every scenario was designed to be “winnable” – not that everyone would always win, but rather that that there would never be a “no-win” scenario presented in the training.
The scenarios were changed frequently, and were designed and based off of events that have actually happened.
When they weren’t shooting, everyone participated as “students” in the classroom, and were asked to make yell, scream, cry for help, or in certain cases run down the hallways, getting in the way of or clinging to the responder, to add to the sense of realism. Some also were allowed to volunteer to act as the active killer. A great deal could be learned from observing (while playing the roll of victim or killer).
When it was their turn, the responders were moved to a different location so that the scenario could be set up in such a way that they would not know what to expect. When given the information they needed to know, the scenario commenced, and the responder had to use the skills they had learned to find their way as quickly as possible to the area where the active killer was attacking and attempt to stop the threat.
The last exercise of the day was held in an atrium or cafeteria setting. Everyone was gathered under the premise that the training was essentially over. Suddenly, one individual stood, yelled that he planned to kill everyone, and began firing his airsoft pistol. Instructors had also taken one student down the hall and told them to respond when they heard the attack begin. The intent of the drill was to see how hard it would be for a responder to locate the killer in the mayhem. Things never got to that point, however, because several people still had their personal airsoft pistols with them, and once simply stood seconds after the attack began and shot the “active killer.”
The scenario was set up again, this time with instruction that no one except the killer and responder were armed. Everyone was told that they were playing the roll of students and that they should “do what you would do.” When the attack began, some ran, but some promptly jumped the “killer,” forced him to the ground and piled on top of him.
While this once again didn’t help instructors learn what they were trying to learn, the accidental lesson was crystal clear – having armed persons, or persons who are willing to fight back, can stop an attack and limit the damage.
On the third attempt and with more instruction for the “victims” to simply jump, run or hide, the “responder” was able to quickly locate the “killer” and stop the threat, even in the chaos.
Since this was Benner’s first Active Killer class comprised of so many school employees, in many instances it was clear that the instructors were learning as much as the students. Many ideas were discussed, including strategically positioning teachers’ desks, what an armed teacher should do if s/he is in the classroom with students but hears shooting down the hall, etc. etc.
Seeing how seamlessly armed school employees and law enforcement could work together was also very instructive. If your local law enforcement agencies are not working with your local school districts on this type of training, ask them why.
In a follow-up email to me, Edgerton Chief of Police Jeremy Jones observed that he believes the training was a “huge success.”
“I have heard nothing but praises for the training and the TDI staff instructing,” wrote Jones. “One very important point that was made this weekend and truly opened many eyes of the students was how important it is to have an armed response already in place within the school. During the scenario-based training, it became very obvious to all students how a killer can inflict death or serious injury to an entire classroom in a very short period of time. Waiting for law enforcement to respond to the scene and neutralize the threat IS NOT a viable option.”
To say that Jim Irvine and I were impressed with the mindset and preparedness demonstrated in the Edgerton school building and by the Williams Co. school employees and law enforcement in attendance would be a gross understatement. It is deeply encouraging to see these people volunteer to take on the roll of first responder inside the school building, and to give up their weekend to learn these life-saving skills.
I am certain that the lessons learned from this weekend’s training will be put to good use as the expert instructors at TDI work to prepare for Buckeye Firearms Foundation’s Armed Teacher Training Program (ATTP) course that will be held over three days later this spring.
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