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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 22 2013

In case of F-M area school attack, run, hide or fight

FARGO - Lock the doors and hide has been the mantra for local schools in preparing for possible attacks.

But as new thinking takes hold in dealing with mass shootings across the country, running or fighting are other options for teachers and students to protect life and limb.

“We’re finding that sitting and waiting isn’t the only option,” said Sgt. Tara Morris of the Cass County Sheriff’s Department.

Locking down elementary schools has been a leading tactic as young, vulnerable students look to teachers for cues in an emergency, said Morris, who coordinates the Cass-Clay Unified School Response team.

But middle and high school students are big enough that they can run to safety – or even fight if they must to survive.

“It’s evolving, but the shooters are evolving as well. Sometimes they’re students that know what was trained (at the schools),” Morris said.

“Fight is a last resort. Some people just won’t have it in their nature, but others do,” she said. “The school districts aren’t telling them to fight. But they tell them to do what they feel is appropriate.”

Adding “fight” to the mix as a response to attackers follows a new mantra from Homeland Security: Run. Hide. Fight.

In fact, a “Run. Hide. Fight.” video produced by the city of Houston and Homeland Security has been viewed more than

2 million times on YouTube since last summer. The video has actors responding to a gunman stalking an office complex.

The Moorhead School District already allows more flexibility in reacting to potential school attacks, said Assistant Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak.

Hiding or running may work most of the time, but “your situation may determine a different course of action may be taken,” Kazmierczak said.

“It’s OK to fight back. We think people should know that,” he said.

In the Fargo School District, “We like to generally hide and stay out of sight,” said Jim Frueh, director of maintenance operations.

But the other 15 percent of the time, “the teacher needs to assess what his or her situation is,” he said. “A whole bunch of fifth-graders can run a whole lot quicker than a bunch of 5-year-olds.”

Frueh said former Fargo schools administrator Lowell Wolff, who is credited with developing many of the area’s school safety protocols, said even something as simple as throwing objects such as books at a shooter can disorient the individual.

“The intruder really loses his focus and attention when all these things are coming at him,” Frueh said. “If you distract him, it will make it easier for you to flee. It’s sort of a way of fighting back. We have to use whatever method we have.”

The West Fargo School District is sticking with its policy of locking down schools when a threat is perceived, a spokeswoman said.

Heather Konschak said the district takes its lead from the Cass Clay Unified School Response team.

“We know that there is discussion out there and there is continued discussion at the national level and the regional and probably down to the CCUSR level about whether or not having our students fight is a viable option,” Konschak said.

While fighting back “may be a more feasible option” for middle and high school students, “at this time, that’s not something we are educating our kids to do, because there would have to be some kind of education piece.” she said.

Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said law enforcement must train for the possibility of an attack at a school, business, university or elsewhere.

Much of it is tied to a mental health system that needs to be improved, he said.

“I think we’re running up against the mental health issues. Those are more prevalent than they’ve ever been,” Bergquist said.

Homicide is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24 years old in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

In 2010, 4,828 young people were victims of homicide, an average of 13 a day. And of those homicides, 82.8 percent were killed with a firearm, the CDC reports.

But schools are relative pools of safety from such violence.

In the 2008-09 school year, about 1 percent of youth homicides occurred at school. The percentage of all youth homicides at school has been less than 2 percent since the 1992-93 school year, the CDC reports.

Morris said lockdowns can be effective, but the Cass response team now teaches that they are not the only or best tool for each situation.

She said analysis of the 2007 slayings at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg shows that people who did something other than stay put had a better chance of survival.

Before the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, 23-year-old gunman Sueng Hui Cho practiced at a firing range by walking among targets on the ground and shooting at them, Morris said, much as if he was preparing to shoot people trying to hide.

In his 10-minute rampage, Cho killed 32 students and faculty, wounded 25 and killed himself, a Cass response team PowerPoint presentation states.

In the three rooms where Cho had easy access, 27 people died and 14 were wounded. In the two rooms where the doors were barricaded, one person died and one was wounded. From a room that evacuated, two died and 10 were injured, but not wounded, the “Going Beyond Lockdown” presentation states.

In the recent Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newtown, Conn., the shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, killed 26 students and staff at the site, many of whom tried to hide in their rooms. He also killed his mother and himself.

A lockdown works until someone gets in the room, Morris said.

Still, she said there may be no perfect response in dealing with someone determined to wreak havoc.

“Unfortunately, we study the tragedies that happen. … The goal is to minimize the number of fatalities and injuries,” she said.

Statistics on youth violence at schools

Here are some statistics on youth violence at schools from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a 2011 national survey of youths in grades 9-12:

• 12 percent reported being in a physical fight on school property in the 12 months before the survey.

• 16 percent of male students and 7.8 percent of female students reported being in a physical fight on school property in the 12 months before the survey.

• 5.9 percent did not go to school on one or more days in the 30 days before the survey because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school.

• 5.4 percent reported carrying a weapon (gun, knife, club) on school property on one or more days in the 30 days before the survey.

• 7.4 percent reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property one or more times in the 12 months before the survey.

• 20 percent reported being bullied on school property and 16 percent reported being bullied electronically during the 12 months before the survey.

In other reports:

• During the 2009-10 school year, 17 homicides of school-age youths ages 5 to 18 years occurred at school.

• There was approximately one homicide or suicide of a school-age youth at school per 2.7 million students enrolled during the 2009-10 school year.

• In 2010, there were about 828,000 non-fatal victimizations at school among students ages 12 to 18.

• About 7 percent of teachers report that they have been threatened with injury or physically attacked by a student from their school.

• In 2009, about 20 percent of students ages 12-18 reported that gangs were present at their school during the school year.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583