Best defense: Stop school shooters with obstruction
COLLBRAN — Just once, Alon Stivi would like to see the grisly, sorrow-filled sights of a mass shooting — body bags and tear-stained faces — replaced with a photo of a shooter, trussed up like a just-roped calf, drenched in ignominious humiliation.
If that image of defeated shooters, or as Stivi calls them, “dumb-asses,” were to hit the front pages of newspapers, go viral on the web and play out on television screens across the nation, the impetus for posthumous infamy would dwindle and, “There would be a very short supply of dumb-asses.”
To make that happen, Stivi is on a mission to humiliate would-be active shooters or, more accurately, show others how to take down a gunman, even a group of them, when the unthinkable takes life.
Stivi has taken a training program of his design to the University of California, Irvine to make students, teachers and office workers safer from the most extreme forms of violence. In late November, he taught Pennsylvania school principals his principles of survival.
Most recently, he taught more than 80 teachers, administrators, law enforcement officers and others how to react when nightmares play out for keeps.
“What you need to do is not rocket science,” Stivi said from the front of the auditorium at Plateau Valley School. “It’s as simple as you can get.”
ACTION, AND REACTION
As much as it’s unpleasant to contemplate, violence breaks out regularly. Few incidents are as deadly as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings of a year ago in Connecticut, or the Aurora movie theater massacre or the killings at Columbine High School in Littleton. They are, however, equivalent to the tip of a bloody iceberg. Stoptheshootings.org has tallied 387 school shootings since 1992 in the United States.
That’s where Stivi comes in.
Stivi’s approach, which he calls Attack Countermeasures Training Certification, or ACT Cert, stresses low-tech but effective means of dealing with what the Department of Homeland Security terms an “active shooter.”
Schools, malls, hospitals, theaters — all are appealing to prospective mass murderers because as “soft targets,” they present the opportunity to inflict maximum damage to large numbers of people with minimal investment, Stivi said, pointing to the damage done by 19 Saudi Arabians armed only with airplane tickets and box cutters on Sept. 11, 2001.
Organized terrorism, lone wolves, deranged people acting for incomprehensible reasons, the motive doesn’t matter, Stivi said.
What does matter, he said, is the reaction.
For starters, Stivi said, the best role isn’t to be a first responder, but a “first preventer.”
A “first preventer” is the person who notices something unusual and does something about it, by sharing the information or by alerting authorities, Stivi said.
See someone parked outside a school, taking photos or making drawings? Someone else might see something similar and by sharing information, it might be possible to divert an attack early in the planning stages, Stivi said.
The idea of mass violence, after all, is to find the route of least resistance and any obstruction could divert a prospective killer on to another target, Stivi said.
Time is everything in mass killings, Stivi said, noting that the most damage is inflicted in the early moments, long before authorities arrive.
There is no such thing as perfect security, Stivi said, but the tactics of frustration, delay and obstruction can improve the odds of survival and perhaps stave off the last-resort survival skills he imparts.
Stivi, born in France and raised in Israel, was a member of an Israeli special-forces unit with which he served during the 1982 Arab-Israel War. He also has taught close-combat tactics to U.S. Navy SEAL instructors and trains police officers how to respond to terrorist attacks with a course funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Lockdowns, perhaps the most popular school response to the threats, amount to a half-measure at best, Stivi told his class of teachers and administrators.
“A lockdown without a barricade is self-entrapment,” Stivi said.
Lengths of heavy cloth, electrical wiring ripped from computers or other equipment, most anything can be used to tie tables against a door to prevent the door from being opened, whether it does so toward the inside or the outside.
Building a pile of chairs, desks, tables, anything that could slow down a hostile intruder also will help.
Remember, though, Stivi urged, to stay away from areas in which people jam together, making for easy targets.
“We call doorways and windows ‘fatal funnels,’” Stivi said.
Even if it’s not perfect, all the preparation has to do is slow a gunman, enough to send him looking for easier targets, Stivi said.
For Plateau Valley pre-kindergarten teacher Hege Randall and first-grade teacher Kelly Ryan, Stivi’s instruction cleared up questions.
“I have thought about these things,” Randall said. “But he gave me more tools.”
Ryan likewise has considered what she might do should someone try to bash in the door.
“I have thought about it,” Ryan said. “But not in the right way.”
Minutes later, though, Ryan was working with a team of other teachers to tie a table to a doorknob, preventing it from being even jiggled from the outside.
Clearing the emotional threshold of hoping that an attacker can be deterred and taking practical steps is a leap, even in a classroom setting,
“What is the likelihood that he’ll start shooting?” someone in the audience wondered aloud.
“Oh, he’s already shooting,” Stivi responded.
IT TAKES TEAM ACTION
That makes it all the more critical that teachers, administrators and others take action, if not to silence the shooting, then to limit it.
“You have to shift from being the nice, sociable, polite person that you are,” to someone capable of acting to survive as a last resort, Stivi said.
That’s where the heart of Stivi’s approach comes in.
Just as the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the way Americans looked at airplane hijackings — the book until then said to sit tight and wait for negotiations that would free the passengers — mass shootings have to be met with concerted opposition, he said.
To be sure, Stivi said, there is no law limiting people under attack in any way that might delay, distract, dismember, maim or kill an assailant.
Doing so can require teamwork, but it doesn’t require James Bond and the rest of MI5.
The way to foil an armed, hostile intruder at the door is with a team, the tallest of whom waits on the side of the door with the handle. It’s the side on which an assailant’s view is most obstructed.
The first team member hammers down on the arms of the shooter as he enters the doorway, pushing the arms, the gun and the shooter down. Then the second member of the team goes for the back of the shooter’s knee forcing him to the ground.
Other members of the team hold the shooter down and one grabs the gun and turns the muzzle back to the shooter’s face, possibly breaking his trigger finger in the process.
And should the gun go off when it’s pointed back at the shooter?
“Accidents happen,” Stivi said with a shrug.
More to the point, “Did you see anything there that was advanced Navy SEAL kind of combat?” Stivi asked, to quiet headshakes.
Teachers, administrators, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife officers and others all took turns practicing Stivi’s team takedowns on a pair of well-padded volunteers such as Principal LeRoy Gutierrez, who ended up attacked and hog-tied on multiple occasions, impersonating a gun-toting killer bursting through a classroom door.
“We’re all about best practices for all of our kids,” Gutierrez said, noting that he and his teachers have discussed how to handle such a situation. Almost his entire staff, from teachers to custodial staff, showed up for training on what would normally be a day off in a four-day-week class schedule, Gutierrez said.
Evonne Stites, who teaches at Collbran Job Corps, said she is now in a better position to help her students and herself survive such an attack.
Her first concern was that her students would endanger themselves to protect her, Stites said.
“Now I understand that we can work together as a team,” Stites said.
Teachers in northwest Colorado aren’t the only people thinking about how to stymie an attacker.
Students at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C., considered what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School and designed what they called a “DeadStop,” a clip that clasps around the v-shaped hinge that is part of the closing mechanism on school doors to prevent the door from being opened from outside.
Or, said Stivi, just drill a hole into the concrete floor, enough to accommodate a quarter-inch bolt that could be dropped in at a moment’s notice. Leave enough of the bolt standing to brace the door.
“It costs about a buck-fifty at Home Depot,” Stivi said.
Chris Marx, who paid for Stivi’s instruction, said his money was well-spent.
“There’s no amount of money we wouldn’t spend to keep a child protected. If it’s $1 million a class, it’s still worth it.”
Somewhere, sometime, his lessons will be needed, Stivi said.
“There are a lot of things we can do to change the outcome of the next attack,” Stivi said, “which we know is coming.”