"Run, Hide, Fight": The Standard Practice for Fending Off a Mass Shooter?

UH Officer Jeremy Johnston teaches a room full of faculty to "Avoid, Deny, Defend" active shooters.
UH Officer Jeremy Johnston teaches a room full of faculty to "Avoid, Deny, Defend" active shooters.
Meagan Flynn

"Active shooter on campus. Run Hide Fight."

That tweet from Ohio State officials was how thousands of students, and people across the country, learned of the chaos that was ensuing on the school's campus Monday morning. The attacker turned out to be a man with a knife, who sent nearly a dozen students to the hospital after intentionally driving his truck into a crowd of people, then getting out and slashing them. Campus police eventually shot and killed the attacker.

The advice from school officials on Twitter — or the mere thought of having to fight an active shooter — likely startled many who read it, whether they were potentially in harm's way or thousands of miles from Columbus.

But whether it's "run, hide, fight" or "Avoid, Deny, Defend," as at the University of Houston, universities across the country have adopted similar models and mantras. Those that have active-shooter (or attacker) training in place have quit encouraging students to cross their fingers and wait for police to show up while playing dead. Instead, officials urge students to take action.

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The Houston Press attended the University of Houston Police Department's active-shooter training over the summer, where a few UH officers taught an auditorium full of faculty members how to prepare for the worst-case scenario. UH teaches the "Avoid, Deny, Defend" model, which was developed by Peter Blair, the executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, based at Texas Tech University, and which has since received national attention. The point of the training: learning to think outside the box under high stress.

As with "Run, Hide, Fight," UH police encourage people to run as fast and far away from an active-shooter situation as possible. If necessary, UH Officer Jeremy Johnston told the crowd, they could break through windows or even walls to escape an attacker and get to safety. “I promise you guys," he said, "the walls aren’t that thick here. Hitting them, kicking them, breaking through them with a chair — whatever it will take.”

If escaping isn't possible, the second step, UH police said, is to deny the attacker as many points of entry as possible. That could mean barricading a door with desks. If there's nothing to use as a barricade, Johnston said that extension cords or belts can be wrapped around the hinges to jam the door shut. And if you have neither of those? “I have on clean underwear today,” Johnston had said. “I can take my pants off and I can use them as a rope if I have to — those are things you have to think about.”

Johnston encouraged essentially anything but crouching underneath a desk. He had explained that UH police preferred the "Avoid, Deny, Defend" model to the "Run, Hide, Fight" model — which is backed by the Department of Homeland Security — because they don't like the idea of helplessly hiding. That's because, he said, if students find themselves feet from an attacker, they would be unprepared to defend themselves (or, in Ohio State's model, to fight).

"How many people have a pen or pencil on them?” he said to the crowd. “I’m going to tell you right now, give him lead poisoning as you’re running out the door if you have to. Go down fighting. No one is defenseless in here. Keys, pens, pencils, an umbrella — whatever you have. Something. Anything is a weapon.”

Campus police could not identify a motive as of Monday in the Ohio State stabbings. Police ID'd the attacker as 20-year-old Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a logistics management student at the school. Ohio State's chief of police said they have not ruled out terrorism.


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