By Laura Carno
August 3, 2016
Children are being murdered in their schools while politicians trade talking points and campaign promises about school safety. Our children are neither partisans nor political chess pieces. What can we do to keep our children safe while politicians jockey for position in back rooms? I met some heroes who found a solution that saves lives. Here is what they found.
On December 14, 2012, a shooter entered Sandy Hook Elementary School. In only 10 minutes, the murderer killed 20 young children and 6 adults. The 911 calls were heartbreaking.
Two school administrators ran toward the sound of gunfire empty handed. Both of them were murdered. Victoria Soto, a 27-year old first grade teacher, died while physically shielding her students from the murderer. All she had to protect and defend her students from a madman, was her body.
The Newtown, CT police arrived in five minutes but waited to enter the school. The murderer killed himself before police reached him. It was another 30 minutes before medical personnel entered the school and treated those still alive.
In the wild, a “Mama Bear” will fight to protect her own cubs. She doesn’t fight to protect the cubs of other bears. Our teachers and faculty members are different. These teachers risked their lives for our kids. These are remarkable people who don’t deserve to die. What can we do to help these heroes as they protect and defend our children?
Buckeye Firearms Association
The day of the Sandy Hook Murders, some of the board members from Buckeye Firearms Association (BFA) had a conference call to discuss the tragedy. One said, “All those teachers had to defend their children were their bodies, and they sacrificed their lives to save those kids. We have to do better.” The board members talked about training teachers to save lives in the first critical seconds of a violent attack on their school. That night, the idea of FASTER was born.
FASTER stands for Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response. On its website, the program calls itself, “…a carefully-structured curriculum offering over 26 hours of hands-on training over a 3-day class that exceeds the requirements of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy. The purpose is not to replace police and EMT, but to allow teachers, administrators, and other personnel on-site to stop school violence rapidly and render medical aid immediately.
When BFA conceived of the idea of FASTER, they knew they would need to remove any barriers that might get in the way of teachers attending. They raised their own funds to pay for the training. They founded Buckeye Firearms Foundation (BFF), and ordinary citizens across the country gave their hard earned money to help teachers defend kids. When FASTER offered their first class for 24 students in 2013, 2500 teachers and administrators signed up. One BFF board member described the reverence he has for the teachers who volunteer. He said, “These are teachers will stand between a murderer and your kids.” That was three years ago.
Today the media is paying attention. Through this month, FASTER has trained approximately 650 teachers and administrators in 152 Ohio school districts, in 63 out of Ohio’s 88 counties. Word of the program has spread. Teachers and administrators from 6 other states have also taken the training course.
Teachers want this. Administrators want this. Most importantly, parents want this.
Although the FASTER and BFF teams are all volunteers, the money they raise goes to the remarkable trainers at the Tactical Defense Institute (TDI) and the Cerino Training Group. Both are world-class tactical training organizations who adapted their training to fit a teacher’s specific needs.
Most of the trainers have backgrounds as police, SWAT and federal law enforcement officers. They take this training seriously, as do the teachers. With each exercise, they know that this one skill taught to this one teacher may make the difference between people living or dying. It’s evident in everything they do.
FASTER Level 1
My friend Rob Morse attended Faster Level 1 in June of this year as an observer. He documented his experiences in his blog Armed Heroes In Teachers Clothing.
To take the FASTER training, the volunteers must already have their state concealed carry license. Teachers and administrators whose school districts had already authorized armed defenders were given first priority for class space. Members of BFF also met with the participating school boards to make sure they had a commitment to the program. School boards in Ohio retain full authority to allow or reject having armed teachers in their schools. Some states prohibit school districts from making that decision.
All the armed defenders are volunteers. In Rob’s article above, you can see his deep respect for these teachers. They know that they may be called upon to defend their students. It’s a heavy burden that they take very seriously.
FASTER Level 2
I was invited to attend FASTER Level 2 as an observer. The Level 2 training is for teachers and administrators who have already been through FASTER Level 1, and have typically been a first responder in their school for a year. Some are the only defender at their school, while other schools have several. One first grade teacher I spoke with is part of a team of 10.
We started Day 1 in the classroom. There was one administrator in the room that we’ll call Paul. He was asked to share an incident that occurred after he attended the first training class. Although Paul is an administrator at an elementary school, the incident involved an older, disturbed and armed student. Paul faced a lethal threat and had to draw his firearm. Because of what he learned, he was able to peacefully resolve the situation without firing a shot. He credits FASTER for saving his life, and the life of the disturbed young man. He is grateful that the armed student can now get the help he needs.
I asked Paul how he became an armed defender at his school. He said, “There had been an incident at a neighboring school, and then after Sandy Hook, our school board members said, “We wish we had some personnel armed here.” The school board sent him to take the training and report back to the board. Paul said, “Even if the first responder is next door to the school, they can’t get here faster than a bad guy can squeeze the trigger. We need help to be on campus before trouble starts.”
Of slightly less importance is the fiscal impact of having teachers and administrators as armed defenders. It is less expensive to have armed defenders who are already on staff than it is to hire a School Resource Officer.
The training includes live fire exercises. That meant time at the pistol range on a sweltering 95-degree day with a heat index of 120. The range exercises were brutal in that heat. With an instructor to student ratio on the range of 2:1, there was a lot of coaching going on: tweaking a grip here, adjusting a stance there. Time and again, the trainers told students that, “You don’t rise to the occasion, but you fall to the level of your continued training.” Most of the armed defenders I spoke to practice once a month.
Everything on the range is about safety.
- There are accuracy drills. Accuracy means safety, because you only hit the threat, not what’s around him.
- There are speed drills. Speed means safety, because reducing the time that the threat is active reduces injury and death.
- There are essentials drills. Solid essentials mean safety, because practicing causes the basics to come back to you the moment that you need them, as they are retrieved from the unconscious memory.
- There are move and shoot drills. Move and shoot means safety, because it practices getting between the attacker and innocent victims.
- There are cover and concealment drills. Cover and concealment means safety, because the defender has to stay alive in order to defend the children.
In between sessions at the range, they take breaks in the shade. They reload their magazines, which sounds like a herd of metallic crickets. They have a snack or lunch. They talk as easily about holsters as they do about smoked pork recipes. These are very ordinary people with an extraordinary responsibility. On these breaks, the trainers talk to the assembled group about what trends they saw in the previous practice sessions. The class learns a lesson from the experience of every student.
The FASTER program is a model for everyone. I spoke with Kevin Kuhens from Freedom Training Group (FTG) in Louisville, Kentucky. Kevin is a retired Federal law enforcement agent with a background in training agents and officers. He is the Executive Director for Training at FTG, which is in the process of providing FASTER training to educators and administrators in Kentucky. Currently, FTG conducts similar training for religious and other private organizations, businesses and corporations. FTG is the driving force behind bringing FASTER to Kentucky and coordinating with community and business leaders to establish a foundation based on the BFF model, which will enable people to donate money to fund FASTER training for teachers and administrators.
Kevin described his interest in teaching educators to be armed, “FTG’s mission is training law abiding citizens to defend themselves and their families. Many educators have come to FTG and expressed frustration and disappointment at their school board’s failure to grant permission for them to be armed in the schools.” Kevin underscored the reasons why training educators is so vitally important. “If an incident occurs, they are on the inside of the event as it unfolds and can eliminate the active shooter/killer in seconds, not in the minutes it takes for law enforcement to arrive.” Kevin was unyielding on this point. “The Sandy Hook teachers gave their lives willingly for their students. Regrettably, their only option was to stand defenseless between their students and the killer, minimally delaying their certain deaths. Those in a position to give teachers permission to be armed, and those of us who can teach them these skills, cannot stand idly by while innocents are slaughtered in these type of tragedies.”
When asked why he looked to TDI to partner in this training, Kevin said, “FTG shares Mr. Benner’s (President of TDI) mindset —there is no more important mission than training others to defend the defenseless. TDI blazed the trail for us with the FASTER training program —it is the gold standard.” Kevin emphasized those responsible for the safety and security of our children have but one option. “Give educators and administrators the authority to be armed. Let them stop the active shooter/killer before he can inflict his carnage in the minutes before authorities arrive.” Kevin directed his next comments to the professional trainers who have the skills to train armed educators and administrators. “It must be our mission to give them the training to eliminate these threats. Anything less is wholly unacceptable on every level.”
How are the insurance premiums of schools and districts impacted once they have armed defenders in their schools? Representatives of FASTER said their feedback indicates there are insurance companies that are friendlier than others to the idea of armed defenders in schools. Additional premium charges range from no increase, a small per person increase to charges bordering on price gouging for having armed defenders on campus. Some have gone as far as threatening schools with non-renewal if they decide to arm their staff. Schools need to be willing to shop around for insurance and remember that saving lives is the goal, even if there is a small price to pay in increased insurance premiums.
Days 2 and 3
Days 2 and 3 had some work on the shooting range, but also included advanced skills. Students learned hand-to-hand non-lethal techniques, and some added complexities that taxed their decision-making skills. Tiny nuances made the difference between stopping a threat and not stopping a threat. One trainer put it this way, “Yes, it’s hard. AND your students’ lives depend on it. Why die to protect your kids when you can protect them and live?” Said another trainer, “This attacker wants to kill you to get to the kids. You can’t let that happen. You have to protect the kids and you can’t do that if you’re dead. We have to win.”
There has been research and reporting on the optimum number of armed defenders in a school. The bottom line, one per building per floor is seen as a standard.
Quickly stopping the threat opens the way for “second responders” who have medical trauma training but who are not armed. Many in the media miss this fact. FASTER isn’t about guns in schools, but about stopping a threat so first responders can save lives. These teachers added even more emergency trauma training in addition to what they had in their first FASTER class.
I had a conversation with two teachers who were of much smaller stature than the average attendee after some of the non-lethal skills training. It looked to me like they were able to have an impact, even given the size disparity. Both of these teachers confirmed that and were happy for their new skills.
One teacher we’ll call Ellen, said, “There is no size or gender here. We are all equal here and we are here to make schools safe for the kids. School is supposed to be a safe place, but the reality is, it’s not safe anymore. It’s our job to make it safe. We don’t do this training out of fear —we do this to prepare.”
Another teacher we’ll call Kellie said, “It’s a mindset issue. FASTER Level 1 taught me awareness of everything. When I got back last year, I looked at my classroom differently. I went through scenarios in my mind in my own classroom. What if someone came from this direction and took this action? I actually rearranged my classroom to make it safer.”
Later in the day, I was able to try the hand-to-hand skills myself with a 240-pound trainer. Although I don’t have as small a frame as Ellen and Kellie, I agree with them on how effective the skills are. They aren’t going to stop an armed attacker, but not every incident is a lethal incident.
Bringing FASTER To Your State
I was beyond impressed by this training and the teacher volunteers. I was in awe of their commitment. What has to happen before this training could come to your state? First, check your local laws to see if armed defenders in schools are already legal, or if there are roadblocks in the way. Contact your state legislators and demand that they pass legislation to allow teachers and administrators to defend your kids in school.
Second, once the laws in your state support it, or if it is already legal, reach out to the folks at BFF and FASTER. Every situation is different, and they want to help. They will also know if someone from your state has already contacted them, as Kevin Kuhens from Kentucky has already done.
Some politicians argue against armed staff in schools. FASTER has thousands of person-years worth of experience. There is no politician who has studied emergency response in schools like FASTER has. Lean on FASTER’s expertise to train both teachers and politicians.
This Shouldn’t Be Political
Our children are not partisans; they are not political chess pieces. Politicians promote the fantasy that guns should never be allowed in schools. But those same politicians need to face the reality that disturbed or evil people do bring guns in to schools. The news shows us what happens when we leave schools unarmed. Experts have shown us what will actually work to save lives. Let politicians issue their press releases over gun control, mental health, and gun-free zones. In the meantime, kids are dying. Let us do something that actually make kids safer today.
One teacher said, “We live in a broken world. Hoping that killers won’t go on rampages doesn’t stop them. Only a competent, trained, armed defender can deal with the reality that bad people are out there in our broken world. It’s our job to stop them.”
It is our job too.