New active assailant plan teaches students to avoid, deny or defend


Jessica Cruz

Screenshot from the video shown to staff and students about active assailant situations

Bianca Johnson and Jessica Cruz

Students participated in a 52-minute class on Monday, in which they watched a video on how to handle an active assailant situation. Students and teachers then discussed different approaches to various scenarios.  

Before the end of the last school year, Montgomery County Public Schools partnered with the Montgomery County Police Department to bring “Avoid, Deny, Defend” to county schools as a strategy to strengthen the standard lock down and shelter-in-place procedures of the past.

The video “Active Assault Training” was 31 minutes long. Lieutenant Brian Dillman from the Montgomery County Police Department talked about the new protocol for handling an active shooter situation and the three available options.

The first option is to avoid. For this option, students are encouraged to escape if given the chance to safely do so. Students should not avoid if the situation is happening near the given classroom or if exits are not close. 

“Because you’ve been taught so long to [lock down], you don’t think to run,” principal Carol Goddard said. “So it is important to know you have options now, and it’s important for us to say it’s okay to run and get away.”

The second option is to deny. In this option, students and teachers are expected to position themselves along the walls away from windows and to try to put objects in front of the door to barricade it. However, this plan presents additional challenges as many classroom doors at Watkins Mill open outward.

“We are saying that if you are safe and secure where you are, it may be better to stay there. If you do, take every action listed on the red lock down placard in your classroom, as well as barricade the door,” Michael Harting, Acting Supervisor of Department of School Safety and Security, said.

The last option is to defend. In defending, teachers or students as a group can try to take away the weapon from the suspect. Teachers, however, have been physically training in how to defend themselves and their students during an assailant attack. “It’s always good to have more training, especially when it comes to defending students,” social studies teacher Matthew Quinn said.

Denial, deliberation, and decisive moments were also discussed during the video. How fast you go through each mental step decides if you will survive, triggering your fight or flight instinct.

There have been 343 incidents since 2013 and 56 in 2018 alone thus far where a gun has been discharged on a school campus. There is not a known profile for an active assailant. It is known that 99 percent have been male and they all have an avenger mindset.

To avoid these situations, know the risk factors of active assailant. These can be history of or exposure to violence, substance abuse/dependence, mental illness, history of suicide, harassing behavior and/or a negative family dynamic.

If you see something, say something. Whether it’s to a trusted adult or administration, it never hurts to recognize the risk factors and bring them to others’ knowledge.

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