As the new year is about to begin, some schools are considering whether to require students to place a can of soup on their desk to be used against a school attacker. This decision, like any new safety initiative, has to weigh the desired outcome of the new policy against the application of the new procedures. In other words, is it worth it? Can we do it? Will it be something that we can maintain?
First, in theory the strategy of throwing a can of soup at the attacker is a great idea. Absolutely, do anything you can to survive even if that means throwing something—anything—at the school attacker if it helps you or others.
Application of this tactic however, is something completely different.
In your mind’s eye, imagine someone storming into your office to commit violence against you. Is your first thought to throw something at them? If not your first, how about your second, third, or fourth course of action? Chances are if you’re like the vast majority of people confronted with an immediate threat, throwing something at the attacker is not even a consideration.
Why do I say this?
I don’t know of a single school attack or an active shooter incident where a student or a person threw something at the attacker. Not even in the recent attack in Orlando where many of those in that tragedy were already holding something (glass and/or bottle) in their hand and nearly all were adults. If there was ever a time that someone would have thrown something at the attacker, it seems like it would have happened there.
But it didn’t because throwing something at a threat is not what we naturally do during a crisis.
There are three things that we do naturally during a crisis and that’s run, hide, and fight. This strategy, unlike the tactic of a can of soup placed on the student’s desk, was revealed to us and not created by us. In other words, after observing human behavior during numerous attacks it was revealed that people will basically do three things—run, hide, fight or some combination of the three. Therefore, it was not a case of someone coming up with what they considered a successful strategy and then telling people how to do it. People were already successfully doing it and we simply gave their behavior a name—run, hide, fight.
Telling a person to throw something at the attacker is not a natural behavior, but a created tactic.
This tactic has one great flaw, as do so many of the new strategies and tactics being created in a real effort to help people survive a school attack and an active shooter incident, which is that they demand a new behavior that is not natural to the person.
Yes, it is possible to make a person perform in a manner that is ‘unnatural’ to them, but it requires enormous and consistent amounts of training. It is not natural to run into a burning building or towards a person shooting at you, but we have people who can do it and it takes of years (or even decades) of training and re-training to make it possible. We don’t have that kind of time and we’ll never have the kind of time in the schools.
It’s so much easier to prepare a person to be successful, especially during high pressure and dangerous situations, by enhancing the behavior he or she is already naturally inclined to implement.
The most beneficial element about the concept of throwing a stapler, book, can of soup or some other object at the attacker is that it helps to instill in the person a mindset to do whatever they must to survive. The problem is that the application as a tactic is not feasible. People do not do it and if they’re not going to do it, regardless of how great of a strategy, it’s not beneficial as a tactic.
Instead, invest your time by enhancing those behaviors that have already been proven to be very successful in saving lives, reducing physical harm, and limiting emotional suffering. Train your students and staff members to better implement the strategy of run, hide, fight and it will not only save you time, but most important, it will give your school community the greatest opportunity for success.
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