No person or organization has a single solution to end school shootings. But five scholars from the Purdue Homeland Security Institute (PHSI) might have an answer to mitigate casualties. Their 2022 study published in the Journal of Emergency Management found that a school resource officer (SRO) or armed staff member would reduce causalities during a school shooting. As a result of their findings, the researchers recommend that schools should consider including armed individuals in their response plans.
Braiden M. Frantz, PhD, one of the study’s authors, first used the software AnyLogic in graduate school. The software uses algorithms and equations to find results to different “what if” scenarios. One of his projects included improving the evacuation timeline at an outdoor theme park during an active shooter event.
“The theme park project enlightened me to the flexibility of AnyLogic and its agent-based modeling (ABM),” Frantz revealed.
He said that ABM enables “pedestrians” to operate independently of one another rather than developing robotic characteristics. Researchers can set varying parameters within the model to collect data on how it impacts pedestrians and produces independent data for each iteration. The software can run scenarios much faster than real-time, which can rapidly produce data from hundreds or thousands of threat events. It also permits researchers to replicate real-world events removed from the danger of a mass shooter threat.
The PHSI study tested three hypotheses using an existing Columbine High School shooting model: the introduction of an SRO, armed staff member or both into a school shooting event. The researchers ran 12 scenarios 100 times each:
- All victims hide (no SRO or armed staff member)
- All victims run (no SRO or armed staff member)
- All victims fight (no SRO or armed staff member)
- All victims run (one SRO)
- All victims run (one armed staff member)
- All victims run (one SRO and one armed staff member)
- All victims hide (one SRO)
- All victims hide (one armed staff member)
- All victims hide (one SRO and one armed staff member)
- All victims fight (one SRO)
- All victims fight (one armed staff member)
- All victims fight (one SRO and one armed staff member)
School Shooting Study Results
For the scenarios that didn’t include an SRO, an armed staff member or both, victims were forced to escape, hide or fight back against the two shooters alone. When all the victims hide, the survival rate was 1.8 percent, with only one of the 56 victims surviving the shooting. This scenario produced the least number of survivors out of the 12 scenarios tested. When all the victims fought back, the survival probability was 98 percent. When the victims run, it generated a survival probability of 91 percent.
The victims had the highest survivability rate when a school resource officer, armed staff member or both were present. When all the victims run, and an SRO, armed staff member or both were present, there was more than a 90 percent survivability rate. When all the victims hide, and an SRO or armed school staff member was present, the survivability was 40 to 50 percent higher than when they weren’t.
Adding an SRO and armed school staff member increased the survivability rate by 73 percent compared to the hiding scenarios that didn’t include them. When all the victims fight and an SRO, armed staff member or both are present, the survivability rate was 98 percent. The victims also sustained the lowest number of casualties. As the findings indicate, adding either an SRO, armed staff member or both to a scenario increased survivability rates and reduced casualty rates among victims during a school shooting event.
The PHSI’s director, J. Eric Dietz, said that “the single greatest impact to mitigate the threat on schools or business venues is the school resource officer.” SROs were present at both the Columbine and Parkland shootings. However, the Columbine SRO’s actions were restricted due to ineffective standard operating procedures. In the case of the Parkland shooting, the school’s SRO was arrested for neglect and negligence. In their study on national and state implementation of SRO programs, Martha Cray and Spencer C. Weiler reasoned that to be successful, “SROs should follow a formal written policy on duties and goals of the program.”
One of the most controversial topics in America is if we should arm teachers and staff. Some people are for it, while others vehemently oppose it. Others are undecided.
The PHSI’s researchers indicated “there has been very little research completed to support or oppose” either argument. More academic research like the PHSI’s study can provide clarity and help to decide an appropriate course of action or public policy.
Adding SROs and armed staff members in schools’ response plans is one solution to an enormous problem crippling America.
Bott, Robert, Braiden Frantz, Nicholas Koontz, Isha Patel and J. Eric Dietz. “Active Shooter Mitigation Techniques.” Journal of Emergency Management 20, no. 2 (March/April 2022): 95-109.