For a while in my office, I had this little white plastic cup. It was hidden behind the door. It had these cards tucked inside. They were notes and reminders of what to do in case of a mass shooting. Like a lot of people, my employer required me to attend a seminar where the local police walked us through what they know about mass shooters and what officers would do if one came to our door. Pursue the killer first, help the wounded later. And they talked about what I should do in that scenario. Run, hide, fight.
Yeah, you should. That’s my fault.
That’s Katherine Schweit, and she’s our single guest today. Because the fact that schools now do active shooter drills with this message is, as she says, her fault. Well, not totally. But at this point, it’s now conventional wisdom from law enforcement, including at the FBI, where she helped create their active shooter program.
Remember, run, hide or fight. Run. Wherever you go be aware of alternate exits.
And then there’s this whole industry of private security types spreading the message and trainings like the one I went to and researchers trying to identify patterns for what makes a mass shooter in an effort to identify and treat them before they commit violence. Their teachers developing entire curriculum around educating their students about gun violence.
State and local education leaders in Coleman will show off the newest safety device that will add a layer of protection.
What looks like a average white board can be turned into an additional space within the classroom that can protect students and teachers and an active shooter situation.
Security businesses stepping in to offer what they call solutions to schools, which, by the way, they are doing, because many lawmakers at this point have decided that they will not. This is Tim Burchett. He’s a Republican congressman from Tennessee. This was him speaking to a reporter in the days after six people, including three nine year olds, were killed at Nashville’s Covenant School.
Do you think there’s any role for Congress to play?
Rep. Tim Burchett
Um, I don’t see any real role that we can do other than mess things up, honestly.
Thanks to the reporter who asked that question. So in the meantime, for us and for our kids, it’s run, hide, fight. So today we’re going to talk about what it’s like to build a program that will mitigate disaster. How to explain what we’re doing to kids and what it’s like to do that in the midst of political paralysis. I’m Audie Cornish. This is the assignment.
You’ve probably seen Katherine Schweit on TV in the past few days.
I’m now joined by former FBI official Katherine Schweit.
And also with us is former FBI agent Katherine Schweit.
Katherine is the person you call when you’re trying to make sense of a tragedy like this. She developed the FBI’s active shooter program, and I saw her pop up on TV doing these quick explainers. But I wanted to know more about her. Like, what was the moment that led her to become an expert on this grim topic?
There’s always not an aha moment.
Oh, there was. You’re right. There was an aha moment.
Awful indeed. CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield is now on the scene for us in Newtown. Give our viewers a sense of what you’re seeing and hearing.
Well, I’m in the same place, Wolf, that the Connecticut governor, Dan Malloy, just updated us on.
When the Sandy Hook massacre happened. We rarely call these shootings massacres, but Sandy Hook is often referred to as a massacre because there were, as everybody always says, those babies. There’s these tiny little kids. And I think the shock of that shooting our personnel, we’re on the ground working. Our SWAT team was there helping at Sandy Hook, clearing that room. It was so devastating to the country. And what we saw at Sandy Hook was even though the Connecticut State police were in charge, even though Newtown police were there, it was a small community that was so devastated, they were so overwhelmed. And I swear, I feel like it was that day that the FBI director and Mr. Biden’s office and Mr. Obama’s office set their sights on we’re going to come up with a single voice in the federal system. We don’t know how, but we’re going to do it.
It’s not unusual for a politician to say we’re going to do something, but then somewhere someone has to do it. And that was you. So what was that conversation like?
The president had made statements saying, you know, they called it his “Now is the Time” speech.
Yeah, this is President Obama.
Hi, everybody. This week, I announced a series of concrete steps we should take to protect our children and our communities from gun violence.
He directed the vice president to the vice president, put together a team of executives from the agencies and I was the FBI’s agency executive. So that may sound like just another meeting, but we met every single day together, starting with conversations about what are we going to do to prevent these shootings from happening again. And we were literally arguing in the first days about what really needed to be done and what the problems were. And every day we’d get together in a room at the Department of Education and argue about ways to solve this problem, not having any idea whether it involved better police response or harder targets or training civilians to know what to do or getting rid of guns or whatever.
You know, it’s interesting. There are so many places where mass shooting events have taken place. But you’re saying these meetings happened at the Department of Education?
I know. That’s because Sandy Hook was a school. Right. And the Department of Education. I mean, of all the places, I think in retrospect, I so agree with you, because when we started and I said we were arguing the Department of Education people when I brought run, hide, fight to them, which is something I’d love to tell you how that happened. They said, yeah, we don’t we don’t use words like that in schools. We can’t use fight. And they wanted the conversation to end at that moment.
So it was like, we don’t lie. We’re not talking about this.
Right? I’m with the FBI and we’re like, Yeah, it’s a violent thing, David. You know, that’s what I said to the executive who was who was my counterpart.
One of the interesting things about what we’ll call this pivot in law enforcement, right in the government that we’re pinpointing to the Obama administration is now becomes a whole world of people who are thinking about how to deal with active shooters and also how to deal with mass shootings in schools. So there are people such as yourself, law enforcement, but there’s also people who have to come up with these trainings, so to speak, their mental health professionals, there are parents thinking about this, and in recent years we’re seeing commercial interest. Right? Like people coming up with. Safe, ballistic enforced windows.
Door, windows, locks.
There’s a whole thing sprouting up for us to live with. The reality of mass shootings and in particular, mass shootings in schools. Yeah. Is that true? Am I making that up?
No, you’re not. It’s a whole other industry. So where there were people like after Sandy Hook, Chris Murphy, you know, who’s from Connecticut?
The senator, Chris Murphy wrote a book and started advocating for things. And if you think back, right, Gabby Giffords, it’s not like this was the first time anything happened. But this school incident created this cottage industry of we’re going to find a better way to crack the nut in terms of keeping kids safe in school. And at the time, we didn’t really know. Truthfully, the Department of Education at the time, their biggest beef with me was, you can’t even tell me, Kate, if the number of shootings are increasing.
Mm hmm. Also, could you even tell them who a potential shooter was?
No, not really. I mean, we hadn’t really even at the FBI, we hadn’t focused on this as a separate area. Now, there’s a whole, you know, component at the FBI that does this. Of course, we had behavioral specialists who who look at shooters and why they shoot. But, you know, when when everybody wants to buttonhole a potential shooter and say, I just need to see the profile, I just need to see the profile. The problem is there isn’t a profile here.
Right. But we all watch TV and we think like Criminal Minds or whatever, like the FBI profilers will come in and say it’ll be an X, probably this tall, with this grievance, and that’s the person you have to look out for. And that has not happened when it’s come to active shooters, frankly. Not really what schools either.
No, because I think the difference between that is a profile is things that demographics and factors about an individual that you can tell from standing far away from them. They’re this tall or they have this kind of education. I’ve worked with the profilers on cases, kidnaping cases and other cases. But when we’re looking for this kind of a shooter, we’re looking for individuals who could be you or me or anybody in the neighborhood, but they’re different than you or me or anybody in the neighborhood because they’re much more brittle,.
Emotionally, they’re brittle. And so when they, for instance, have a grievance or even if it’s a perceived grievance, but say they get fired on a Friday, some people go home and, you know, pour open a glass of wine and commiserate with their friends about the state of the economy and others go home, get the gun from their bureau, or go out to their car and get the gun out of the glove box and come back in and kill people at the office.
So on your website, you have like a little quiz, like, which one of these things are you doing to keep your school safe? And one of them is like, do you have any kind of threat assessment? Right. Do you have a threat assessment team? Another one is, do you have a way for your students or anyone to basically report signs of someone who’s like under emotional distress, etc.? Mm hmm. You also have a question, which is do you run drills and trainings several times a year to give faculty and staff confidence to respond immediately during an emergency? Let’s talk about this several times a year.
Mm hmm. Every school runs fire drills twice a year. We haven’t lost a child to a fire since the 1950s in the United States. But we run a couple of fire drills every year, usually when the weather’s nice.
You also say you give them suggestions and you say, well, maybe a school resource officer can oversee running non-scary but informative drills three times a year for students and staff. Now I’ve done a one of these in a workplace. It was scary.
Right, because that’s–
What’s a non scary version for kids?
So I think that I liken this, right, to what I was just saying about a fire. You know what a fire is going to do. You know how devastating it can be. When you get on the plane somebody tells you in a big metal tube, okay, if the oxygen disappears, this is going to drop down and you need to know how to put this mask over your face and put yours over before you help your child. And by the way, reach under your seat and grab your cushion, because when we go into the water, those are all really scary things. But we have normalized those because we just do them as a matter of routine. Now we listen to them. A lot of people sit on the plane and don’t listen to any of it, but they’ve integrated into their brain. And that’s what we need to do, is to take this just like tornado drills and fire drills. This type of drills and training needs to just be part of the safety training of the school. It doesn’t have to be some separate scary training. It just has to be safety training.
No, but the reason why I’m saying that is because it does feel separate and scary. So, for instance, with this, the thing I hear most commonly now is run, hide, fight.
Yeah, you should. That’s good to know. That’s my fault.
Tell me about that. Where to come from?
So the city of Houston mayor’s office developed run, hide, fight on a DHS grant in the summer, just before Sandy Hook, they released that six minute film and training in multiple languages and put it up on the City of Houston Mayor’s office website. And when we first started meeting at the Department of Education and arguing about what we should do or shouldn’t do, the Department of Education said, We’re not going to talk about this. It’s too scary. And that is–
Which part did they find scary?
All the concept of just talking about shootings in schools at all. Oh, and we don’t think this is a good thing. And I said, but they said we should do a training film. I don’t know what that meant. And I said, Well, okay, the FBI has a television studio. We can do a training film. And then I know how much that costs and how long it takes. So, you know, I went home and did my best Internet search like everybody. And I ran across this six minute film that had just been released by the city of Houston.
Houston training video
And if you find yourself facing an active shooter, there are three key things you need to remember to survive.
Houston training video
And then fight. Which is like, grab something, right? Ambush. Try and actually engage somebody who, let’s face it, has spent a lot of time thinking about how they’re going to attack you. And you’ve spent very little time thinking about how you’re going to fight back. So I’m trying to picture teaching this to my five year old.
Okay. So wait, so let’s back up too because I think, you know, that’s that’s great. But now we’re talking about a five year old. So first, let’s just talk about the adults in the room. Right. Because the adults have to understand it first and the concept behind Run, Hide, Fight. This is what people do at scenes. This isn’t a suggested idea of what might happen. These are the actions that happen. You know, run if you can, hide if you must, and fight if if your life depends on it. And so the training that goes along with it explains the nuances of that. And there have been other organizations that have private companies. Right. Who’ve developed training that similar all the training focuses on these three actions.
But there is a concern people have, let’s say, about mental health, right? I mean, when I kind of went down the rabbit hole on this, there, there were some researchers who put out something, and I think I saw it on Nature.com I’ll give you the proper citation in a minute. But basically they said they studied people’s social media posts kind of before and after.
And I just want to say this for the audience. They found that school shooter drills can negatively impact the well-being of school communities over prolonged periods of time. That students were texting their parents, praying, crying, you know, really talking about breaking down in tears, you know, during recess. That’s kind of quotes from some of the teachers. And then also having downright fear and panic attacks when, for instance, the fire alarm goes off. You talked about us being used to the fire drills. It isn’t it’s no small thing to have this.
No, it isn’t it? I don’t make light of it at all.
Like, was that educator right?
But no, but that educator is right. But here’s the difference. Look at the data. That study and that study was done to help us inform us, I mean, in general, about how to do a better job in training. I think there was there absolutely was initial training that was people running through hallways with long guns in their arms and yelling at students and fake blood everywhere and no-notice drills and those are still going on.
No notice, meaning surprise.
We’re all in an active shooter drill and doing that like in a school?
Right. The early training that was done with the community as opposed to law enforcement going out in the woods and doing their SWAT training. The early training that was done by private companies was and some law enforcement was really based on this idea of we’re going to let everybody know how scary it is. And that was never, ever the training that was developed by the FBI. And that’s one of the reasons why we had to create… We worked with FEMA to create civilian training that was not at all anything like that.
Right. Because we also don’t need help knowing that it’s scary.
Like we all know that it’s scary.
Well, we don’t teach kids about car accidents by showing them body parts in the street. Right? We don’t teach adults about plane safety by having them have simulated crashes into the water. Training where you scare people is not effective training. All you do is scare them. You don’t empower them.
So let’s go back to non scary informative. Right? Which is your goal? And my five year old who just entered kindergarten and I’m I’m very nervous, frankly, you know, about this whole conversation and also explaining to him right when he comes home from school after the first day of probably experiencing something like this. So how do you want schools to approach it? What makes sense at this point in time based on what we know?
All right. So how do you talk to kids? Different question, Right. How do you talk to kids? Well, first of all, you’re a parent. You know how to talk to your kids and you tell your kids and teachers are the same way, right? Teachers are trained to talk to the children at the age they are. So when you’re a teacher of a kindergartner, you’re not saying a scary guy is going to come in here with a gun, so we have to do this. You’re saying sometimes bad people might be around the building and we have to be careful and we have to be quiet. And in one of the books, one of the elementary school books that I found that was so cute that I think every school should have in their library and every parent should own, is a story about that the circus train came by and the circus animals got out of the train. And they’re looking for lunch and they want peanut butter sandwiches so the kids better stay in their classrooms and stay quiet so the animals don’t come to eat their peanut butter sandwiches. All you’re teaching a child at that age is to listen, to follow directions and to be quiet when they need to be. That’s it. The other thing about training kids is you got to lead by what they know. I think I hear parents all the time say, I don’t want to talk to my kids about that. It’s too scary or kids are talking about it. They’re talking about it amongst themselves. Talk to a group of fourth graders and ask what if they know anything about what what school shootings and active shooters are? They know. So I think it’s naive of parents right now to say, oh, I can’t talk to my kids about that. It scares me. And you know what? Let me tell you something else about that. My daughter is a middle school teacher, and I asked her early on when I was working on some stuff. I said, what do you think about the parents who say it’s too scary to talk about it with their kids? And she said, I would tell them,park your neuroses someplace else, because that’s you. Your kids aren’t scared of it. They’re scared of a lack of information, and they’re making it up on their own. So why don’t you help them out by having a conversation with them about it?
The reluctance is that school is, for lack of a better term, a safe space. Like we pretend that school is a bubble similar to home. If you believe home is safe, school is also safe. And it just it feels like generationally, we’re like, nope, not an option for you. Not an option for this generation. Not safe.
What do you mean?
What is it like for me to live this way? I want to get off this bus. I just haven’t found a way to do it. I mean, I retired from the FBI five years ago and the shootings continue to increase.
I am going to say something that I don’t want you to think I’m putting on you. I just thought, no, another way to ask it. Do you have moments where you’re like, did I fail?
Oh, yeah, sure I do. I do feel like as much as we did, I couldn’t get enough. I’m bailing water out of this ship as fast as I can, and it’s still sinking. I feel a sense of responsibility to share what I’ve learned. I mean, that’s why I wrote the book, thinking, well, that’s great. I can step away. And that didn’t work.
More of my conversation with Katherine Schweit in a moment.
We’ve talked a lot about the during, the people who are trying to kind of mitigate the casualties uk awful to use that term.
That’s the reality of it. It is mitigating the casualties.
When it comes to prevention. Where is that in this?
There is tons of prevention capabilities here. If you understand what you’re looking for, you have to know what you’re looking for. An individual who is on a pathway to violence. That’s exactly what we call it, they’re on this pathway to violence. Everybody in our industry understands this, behavioralist understand that these are planned events and an individual moves on this pathway from I’m going to create this type of violence, and then they begin to plan and prepare. And these planning and preparation are visual oral things that are done. They leak their intent to do it to other people. In the FBI research of 63 shooters who committed mass violence, committed active shooters 92% of them who were students leaked to peers.
And we should say when we say leaked to peers, that’s quite literally telling another kid, maybe saying something on social media.
Saying something online. But they like tell someone, I’d really like to do X or Y.
Right, it’s not a it’s not a subtle thing. It’s something that was enough that the person who heard it was disturbed about it.
And so as part of the prevention conversation with young people, what do you do when you hear that? Because I know when I was in middle school, we heard kids say all kinds of things. Right. You don’t necessarily think you’re going to go and tell someone they might be, they might become. Is that what prevention is for young kids or teens? Like, is that part of it?
You can train young people about it because the prevention aspect is looking for behaviors of concern. So when it comes to a 17 year old, we want the leakage. When a kid is posting something online or texting to somebody. We want we want somebody immediately to report that to somebody else and report that to the police and to the principal and to the parents and the trusted adult, to the anonymous tip line. But when a child is seven or eight, what are what do we want to teach them? The same kinds of things that we talk about with regard to body autonomy, stranger danger. We teach very carefully our children to protect their own physical self, to not allow somebody to abduct them on the street. Just the idea that you don’t have to go past there are people who do bad things.
But with kids one of the realities they have is, as you said, it might be another student. It’s not always another student, but one day it might be another student. And kids say all kinds of things all the time. You know, I mean, I think about the plot of Heathers pretty much involves blowing up the school. Like we’re asking young people to look at each other and say, Oh, but you’re going to go a little farther than everyone else. And I should say something. And obviously there’s some reluctance because we know about the leakage, but we don’t have enough advance notice to prevent things.
You know, I, I, again, I respectfully disagree.
Bring it up because I need to understand this, you know.
Because I think that, you know, we’re asking… If you put on a child, on somebody who’s younger, even on an adult, you know, I can’t put into your brain what I can do from an analysis standpoint on thinking if somebody is a threat. I’ve spent my career 20 years in the FBI, years before and after determining whether something is a threat and whether something is dangerous. I can’t you can’t do that as an adult. We certainly can’t ask a child to do that. All we’re asking you to do as an adult is tell somebody what you hear or see. That seems like get your spidey senses up. It gets the hair on the back of your neck up. Somebody says something, too, and it seems off. We’re asking children to do the same thing that they would you would want them to do if they went over to their friend’s house and something made them uncomfortable. You want them to know that it’s okay to say something. And I get it in a five year old, we’re probably not going to get a lot of five year olds. You know, I live here in Virginia where the six year old shot the teacher and the student who did the shooting showed another six year old, I think it was six. The gun outside on the playground and said, don’t tell anybody. And the kid I think the kid went crying to somebody and did tell somebody but was afraid, you know.
That that he would get in trouble and that we aren’t going to have a lot of seven year olds showing guns to somebody. It’s going to be more like seven year olds saying things. I’m just saying if you see some. Things. Say something. It is the same. If you see something, say something. But what I see it is a gap between see something and say something. We haven’t taught people what to look for and then who to tell it to when it comes to these kinds of shootings.
The gap you’re talking about, right. The gap between I see something and I say something, and then what does someone even do with that information? It just sounds like we’ve got to build up an infrastructure for something that we all had hoped wouldn’t be a long term problem.
Yeah, I think that’s it. And, you know, when you ask me, you know, how do I feel about working on this? I feel like I am dragging chains behind me, trying to get people to build up that infrastructure. Because their chains, I don’t want to drag anymore, but geez, nobody else, you know, I feel like sometimes if I don’t drag my part of it, you know, nobody else will be there. It’s like a big tug of war game because there’s people on the other side of tug of war saying, We don’t want to talk about this. We want to deny it. We want to pretend it’s never going to happen. We want to go back and live in the fifties. We want to go back and live in the sixties when this didn’t happen and when we didn’t have to worry about our kids walking to school every day. And we don’t live in that world anymore. So it would be better if we came up with a system where we live today and try to protect our kids.
But at the same time, you’re hearing more and more young people because of social media, they speak out. Right? And they’re expressing a kind of frustration, helplessness, some of them encountering more than one mass shooting incident in their personal history. It’s it’s rare, but not rare, if that makes sense. I mean.
But there are more shootings. I mean, that’s the reality of it.
Because you now could have a teacher who’s also had this same experience. Like, that’s how long it’s been.
My undergraduate is in Michigan State University, 45,000 students. They had eight students shot a few weeks ago, three of them killed. So now 45,000 students at Michigan State University are going to be able to say they had a shooting on our campus. I think it’s a it’s a false narrative to say that we can create a world where we go backwards and nobody’s interacting with this.
But what do you say to kids then? right? I mean, if they’re feeling…and teachers, students and teachers, etc., just they’re feeling helplessness, they’re feeling frustration, Maybe they feel like culturally they’re being given up on, as you said, that like now it’s just living with it. They don’t they don’t have another option. It’s live with it mitigated all this other stuff.
You know, I you know, what I hear in your voice, Audie, is is the a helplessness and a frustration and a futility. That’s what I hear. And you can’t work as a prosecutor, as FBI agent and feel that way. You have to feel like everything you do makes things better because if you weren’t there, it’d be worse. I don’t say this is a great situation. I say this is the situation we’re in. I didn’t create this situation. Right? But I can make it better. People who talk to their kids, like my niece Megan, who talks to her kids and empowers them. My daughter, who’s a middle school teacher who empowers herself and her kids and the teachers around her to know that they’re not going to let violence take over their world. It’s good because the violence is here. You know, you had 45,000 people a year die by firearms violence, less than one half of 1% if even that are from this kind of shooting. Let’s talk about it and let’s stop being so afraid of it. That’s the way we stop the killing.
You said something earlier about hearing helplessness in my voice. Absolutely. As a journalist, each and every time I report on one of these things, which technically I’ve been doing since high school, since I was in high school in the late nineties, and the conversation falls in the same beats, in the same ruts, in the same order. And you do often feel helpless. Because, as you said, with Sandy Hook, and that was the turning point for me as well. If a room full of kindergartners doesn’t make anyone think anything should be done without falling into those same arguments, well then what could I possibly say? So you are hearing that, you know, I will cop to that 100%.
Well, that’s okay, right? I mean, that’s the–
I mean no, not really. But that’s when you’re like, maybe I should get out of the business. But you know what I’m saying? Like, you detected something that is real, which is the fatigue that I feel and then I think to some extent, possibly citizens feel.
And it’s the same reason that, you know, we do our podcasts. Who does a podcast called Stop the Killing, right? How depressing is that? But in fact, it’s very empowering. Our listeners are like, it’s very empowering. And, you know, all we can do in my mind is continue to empower people so that we regain control of this situation when it comes to gun violence. And I’m really dedicated to that mission. I feel like we just have to do that.
Well, keep doing what you’re doing. And I hope one day you don’t have to do it anymore.
Me too. Thanks very much for the time, Audie.
katherine Schweit. She established the FBI’s active shooter program. She’s also the author of a book called, Stop the Killing How to End the Mass Shooting Crisis. The assignment is a production of CNN Audio. Our producers are Madeleine Thompson, Jennifer Lai, Lori Galarreta, Carla Javier and Dan Bloom. Our associate producers are Isoke Samuel and Allison Park. Our senior producers are Matt Martinez and Haley Thomas. Dan Dezula is our technical director. Steve Lickteig is our executive producer. Special thanks to Katie Hinman and to music composer, Emory Dobbins. I’m Audie Cornish. Thank you for listening.
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