The 21 Foot Rule is a guideline that police use. The guideline is based on the fact that if a person is within 21 feet of you and they have a weapon (typically this rule refers to a knife attack), unless you already have a gun in your hand and are already aware of the circumstance, you won’t have enough time to draw your weapon and fire before the person has closed the gap between you. In other words, there is imply not enough time to draw and fire if an offender is within 21 feet of you.
There is some discussion in the law enforcement community about the interpretation and validity of the 21 Foot Rule. It is not our intent to engage in this debate; for those of us in the risk assessment world, the 21 Foot Rule helps inform policy about active shooter procedures.
We see a consistent procedure in the active shooter section of school’s emergency plans (for those schools that actually have emergency action plans and include a section on active shooters) that gives us pause. Many schools include a “sweeper” in their active shooter plans – in this scenario a sweeper is a faculty member that sweeps through the hallways during an active shooter event, making sure that all students and staff are accounted for and out of the hallways.
Forensically, the use of sweepers in a scenario like this may be a bad idea. If you’re in a hallway and there’s a man with a gun, he is most likely closer than 21 feet. Not only do school teachers rarely (if ever) carry a firearm in school hallways, but the dimensions of most school hallways means that – even if the sweeper had a firearm – there probably isn’t sufficient time to draw it and fire at the shooter.
We generally remove the sweeper role from the active shooter part of an Emergency Action Plan. Sending untrained and unarmed people into this type of situation adds more danger than it prevents. It’s wildly optimistic to think that one of your teachers will willingly run into gunfire in the actual event. Moreover, this is what SWAT teams are trained to do. First responders sweep hallways – not unarmed, untrained teachers. Even if you had sweepers, first responders are going do their job anyway and sweep the hallways. By having a sweeper role in your active shooter plan, you are putting your faculty member in danger and creating a redundant role for the SWAT team.
Please do not read this blog and immediately turn to your school’s Emergency Action Plan and delete the section about sweepers! Having a proper risk assessment performed by a qualified company is the best way to ensure that your Emergency Action Plan is rational and logical. For those of you who work in schools without an Emergency Action Plan (or have an Emergency Action Plan that does not include a section about active shooters), please consider having a risk assessment performed for your school.