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November 28, 2016

Why Ohio State instructed students to 'Run. Hide. Fight'

Commands give people a 'set of options'

Run. Hide. Fight.

Ohio State University tweeted those instructions when alerting its campus to an attack — initially described as an "active shooter" situation — on Monday morning. The message was retweeted thousands of times and picked up by countless media outlets reporting on the threat.

But the staccato commands were not meant to heighten fears as law enforcement responded to the scene. Rather, "Run, Hide, Fight" is a public awareness campaign advocated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, among others.

Ohio State promotes "Run, Hide, Fight" on its own website, which includes a video elaborating on when to take each of those three steps.

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In short, the campaign instructs people to first look to run from the scene, if it is safe to do so. Otherwise, people should hide silently, using barricades, if possible. Only as a last resort does the campaign urge people to attack an active shooter.

A group of governmental agencies, including Homeland Security, adopted the philosophy after President Barack Obama formed a gun violence initiative in the aftermath of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

The trio of commands was meant to be easy to remember, much like "Stop, Drop and Roll," the instructions a person should follow should he catch on fire, said Caitlin Durkovich, Homeland Security's assistant secretary for infrastructure protection.

"If anyone finds themselves in this situation, we want them to think of 'Run, Hide, Fight,'" Durkovich said. "It's not necessarily a sequential thing. ... It all depends on the situation. It's really giving people a set of options, depending on the scenario and depending on the situation."

Homeland Security dialed up its active shooter preparedness efforts following a series of shootings in 2007, including several at shopping malls, Durkovich said.

The department launched workshops and online training programs designed to prepare businesses, schools and citizens for active shooter situations alongside partnering law enforcement agencies. For instance, Durkovich said, it is critical for employees to know where they can instruct customers to flee or hide, should a situation arise at their businesses.

Nearly 16,000 people have completed these workshops. Another 635,000 people have taken the online training program, geared toward assisting general citizens

The training is producing results, Durkovich said. The Department of Justice released a critical incident review of the 2015 San Bernardino attack that cited active shooter training as a key reason some people survived the attack, which left 14 people dead.

"Run, Hide, Fight" was first used by Houston city officials, who produced a video introducing the philosophy as a response to active shooter situations. With assistance from Homeland Security, the city created the video using a $200,000 federal grant.

Georgetown University, Bowdoin College, Indiana University and New York University are among the colleges that have promoted variances of "Run, Hide, Fight."

In its own six-minute video, Ohio State Police officer Adam Tabor instructs students, faculty and staff to remain attentive to their surroundings at all time.

The best option to survive is to quickly — but safely — evacuate the area, Tabor says in the video. If unable to do that, Tabor says people should hide, locking and barricading doors, turning off lights and silencing phones.

"The idea is to make it as hard as possible for the shooter to see you, find you or get to you," Tabor says. "And always spread out. Don't huddle together. That creates an easy target."

If it comes down to it, Tabor says people should fight, using any object in their vicinity — a fire extinguisher, chair or other option.

"Fighting back is a last resort," Tabor says. "But if it's between you and shooter, we want you to survive. ... Once notified, our officers will respond to stop the shooter. You only need to fight until they do."

Ohio State's initial warning stated there was an active shooter on campus. It turned out the assailant had plowed his car into a group of pedestrians and then began stabbing people, before being shot and killed by an officer. At least eight people were injured.

Monica Moll, Ohio State's director of public safety, said at a news conference that officials used "Run, Hide, Fight" in its alert message to remind people of their training.

But not everyone stands behind "Run, Hide, Fight." Critics say each of the three rules has flaws. For example, running from a safe spot could accidentally lead someone into the path of the shooter. Some say lockdowns are a better strategy.

"The fighting part has been very controversial and not widely accepted," said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a consulting firm based in Cleveland.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the number of  people who have completed Homeland Security's online training program.