While the U.S. homicide rate overall has fallen in recent years, the number of active shooter events, that is where a person with a gun attempts to kill people in a confined and populated area, has increased in the U.S. since 2000. The disaster psychology literature tells us that when faced with sudden, fearful events that are unfamiliar, our natural tendency is to go into denial. This is because our brains try rapidly to find prior experience to work from, get "no search results found", then our backup plan is to look to see if anyone else has a "search hit". The psychology and neuroscience of this is described in the book The Unthinkable: who survives when disaster strikes. If we find ourselves in the midst of an active shooter event, particularly in a classroom situation, this means we will likely have one of a number of reactions, such as freezing (everyone gets in a loop of "no search results found"), thinking our senses must be giving us bad information ("that probably wasn't a gun"), or pulling out an inappropriate experience, such as treating the event as if it were a fire alarm, or making jokes. We tend to not want to be seen to be over-reacting. In an active shooter event, seconds are critical, so we cannot afford to risk this happening. This psychology was likely behind the surprisingly inappropriate responses of professors during the Purdue shooting incident (see Purdue Review article). Here are some steps you can take before an incident, to make sure this doesn't happen.
- Watch the RUN-HIDE-FIGHT the IU Run-Hide-Fight video. This is one of the single most useful things you can do. RUN-HIDE-FIGHT is a clear and research-supported immediate action plan for individuals to make good decisions on the scene of a shooting. Students should be encouraged to take their own action based on this, regardless of what a professor says. Professors Instructors should be prepared to take an immediate and authoritative lead in RUN-HIDE-FIGHT. "Programming" the RUN-HIDE-FIGHT approach into your brain will mean you will "have a search hit" of an appropriate response if something happens
- Instructors should think through a RUN-HIDE-FIGHT plan for their classrooms at the start of the semester, including knowing where the exits are, examining the windows to see if they can be opened as an exit route, and examining the doors to see if they can be blockaded. If you feel comfortable doing it, you might also run through the RUN-HIDE-FIGHT process with students in the class at the start of the semester