Panic is freeze. You have heard of fight or flight, but there is a third option called freeze. That’s exactly what you do when you panic. And it is the last thing you want to do in an active shooter situation or any emergency situation for that matter. Unfortunately, the focus has been on active shooter training and we have completely forgotten about the most important aspect – dealing with our reactions when the event occurs. The best way to overcome our reactions is panic training.
The latest methodology for dealing with active shooters is Run, Hide, Fight and is the preferred training of the FBI for schools. But to get to run, hide, fight, we have to get thru our initial reaction to panic. And this can be a very difficult thing to do especially when we have to turn off our brain in the midst of such a high stress event.
The problem with panic is that it creates overwhelming anxiety and highly unstable thinking so much so that our bodies just react. When our bodies just react we may end up do the very opposite thing of what would have saved our lives. So how do we remove panic from highly stressful events? It starts with training.
The confidence circle
Ryan Michler talks about having confidence which most of us think it is just something that we are born with like some superhero power. But Ryan goes on to explain that confidence comes from having experiences and not just one experience, but multiple repeated experiences. How do you get up the courage or “confidence” to ask a cute girl out on a date; or change the water heater in your house; or run a marathon? The first time around you just do it while experiencing varying levels of fear and worry. Your heart beat rises, you have thoughts of failure and you worry that you won’t make it. In some cases you are overcome by worry and fear – panic. If your experience is positive (the girl says yes, the water heater works or you finish the marathon without injury) you start to build confidence. And that confidence leads to taking on more experiences and the circle continues. As you gain the confidence your level of panic diminishes because you have been there before.
The problem with active shooters
How do we build confidence when we don’t have active shooter experience (we don’t need someone actually shooting at us)? Again, the likelihood that you will encounter an active shooter in your lifetime is very low. And the likelihood that you have ever had a gun pointed at you, been shot at or found yourself in a physical fight with weapons is slim to none. And therein lies the problem. Unlike earthquakes, tornadoes and power outages, we just don’t have the level of experiences to build confidence and that leads to not being able to train out the panic. It’s the classic chicken and egg scenario. We need these experiences to build our confidence OR do we?
Panic training, the better training
Most Risk Managers think that the best way to build that confidence is to have active shooter training and drills. While this is true, we have to ensure that we are performing the right kind of training. Tabletop exercises and walking thru the scenarios are great, but that often doesn’t lead to the kind of stress and panic that we will experience in a real active shooter event.
Navy Seals engage in live fire exercises to simulate the danger they will experience in real combat. Things are exploding, things are flying, bullets are hitting the ground around them, lights go out and the intensity is real. That is why they are so well adapted at performing under pressure – their panic has been removed. Astronauts train in similar fashion, repeating the sequences under the most adverse conditions they can create. Again to simulate what the real situation will look like. So how do we do the same for active shooter drills in schools and other organizations?
Panic training is two-fold. First we have to talk about how the body processes panic and what the typical reactions are that we have to panic. Then we need to give participants methods to cope with panic which include talking to oneself, deep breathing, focusing our hearing and the like.
Second, we need to stop focusing on the big picture and start drilling down to the little details. Things like locking a door or closing a blind. Sounds simple, but under panic, these tasks may become difficult to do when our hands our shaking. After we go over the little details in class, then we have to create timed scenarios and apply lots of stress – loud noise, people yelling, people trying to get in the door. The idea is to stress the minor details of each of the links in the chain. Let’s look at some ways to do that.
Ideas for creating panic training scenarios
Creating panic training in schools is not the easiest thing to do, but there are some ways to step up the panic factor and put your team under stress. Remember, they are still employees and still covered under workers’ compensation, so you want to ease into the panic training.
- Have a teacher and their class sneak to a different classroom without being caught
- Have two team members force their way in to the classroom while the teacher tries to close and lock the door. Remind them to keep their fingers out of the way.
- Have team members lock a variety of doors and windows in a contest against time. Give them multiple keys on one key ring
- Use loud, fast paced (180 beats per minute) music while conducting the drill. The music is shown to increase energy and raise heart rate
- Do all of the above, but now have the teacher tie their dominant hand behind their back
- Take staff to shooting range to be exposed to loud gunfire
- Use paintball guns to simulate gunfire