Survival of the Fittest (or Those Who can Problem-solve)


It should probably come as no surprise to our readers that each month I look forward to reading Tom Givens’ latest newsletter.  The March iteration of the newsletter was unusual in that it lacked a bunch of separate articles, but was instead the transcript of an interview he did about active shooters.  As with most things Tom writes, this one is full of all manner of wisdom-nuggets, and I would suggest everyone read it before moving further through this article.

I read the newsletter last Thursday evening, and words from page one were echoing in my brain the following day at work.  As I have written in previous articles, I work as a special education teacher in a school whose student population is 100% students with special needs.  We serve students with learning disabilities, autism, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbance, physical disabilities, and, of course, combinations of any of these.

Like all schools, we are required by the state to have several fire drills per year (10 or 12, I believe).  The students that make up the student body do not, as a general rule, do well with changes to their routine.  Accordingly, the administration tries to make the best of a bad situation and do the drills when they would cause the least disruption.  For example, we never have fire drills during lunch periods, during inclement weather, or while drug dealers are engaging in shoot-outs in the street outside.  Along these same lines, we have students who we take out of the building a minute or two before each drill because the sound of the alarm (which sounds like a plague of locusts) is so disturbing to them that we would then spend the rest of the day getting them settled—if at all. 

I must admit that there is a BIG part of me that disagrees with this strategy.  Just like so many of the things that I am perpetually training for in “self-defense world”, a fire or other school emergency that requires evacuation will probably not occur when it is convenient for us.   At one forward thinking school where I worked years ago, the principal took it upon himself to prepare his staff and students by declaring a certain exit “blocked”–spur-of-the-moment–requiring staff and students to immediately leave via an alternate exit.  A bit more walking during a drill could pay dividends during a real emergency.  Nevertheless, even the local fire department—which will spot-check our fire drill procedures—will allow us about two minutes after their arrival to evacuate a handful of students (for whom drills are such sources of anxiety) before they pull the fire alarm lever.  They are the professionals, so I guess if they are okay with it, I should be as well.

As it happened, the day after I read Givens’ article, a rather impulsive student of ours thought it would be great fun to pull one of the fire alarm levers on his way to lunch.  None of us knew this at the time.  What I did know was that I had received no prior notice (typically an email) of a fire drill that day, the weather outside was quite chilly, and the students were transitioning to lunch.  In other words, this could very well be “the real deal”. 

My classroom is located at about the middle of the second floor that has stairways at either end.  Thus, if I am in my room when a fire alarm sounds, I am often one of the last out of the building.  I grabbed my cell phone from my desk and my coat from my chair and headed down the hall and down the stairs to the lobby.  The sight that greeted me was scary and, frankly, embarrassing.

The front entrance to my school is a set of double doors that open like French doors, i.e., if you open them both up, it creates one large opening.  Because the prevailing winds through the front lot tend to snap back one of these two doors (in the past resulting in some broken door parts), there is a sign on it saying “Please Use Other Door”, with an arrow pointing to the door beside it.  As I got to the bottom of the stairs, I saw the lobby was packed with staff and students, students in wheelchairs, etc.  Since I am typically one of the last out, this situation surprised me.  Turning to my left toward the front door, I immediately saw the problem.  Everyone was filing out the single door one at a time! 

Diagnosing the cause of the delay, I raced to the entrance and did my best fullback-into-blocking-sled imitation and pushed open the second door, kicking down the doorstop as it swung fully open.  Behind me, I heard a fellow staff member say, “Way to make the command decision there, Rob!”  Knowing that I was one of the last people to get down the stairs, I was incredulous that no one had thought to ignore the “Please Use Other Door” sign and simply open the door.  Again, as far as I knew, this was not a drill, so evacuating the building with alacrity was definitely a priority.

With Givens’ words about people not using a fire door to escape a mock mass shooter still in my head, all I could do was shake my head at my fellow staff members’ lack of problem-solving skills.  There is a reason why, when I was attending one of Paul Howe’s classes at CSAT (see here and here) , I chose to purchase a shirt that says, “Servicing One Problem At A Time” on the back.  I have seen it time and time again at work where a serious situation arises and people who get paid (more money than me) to be “Crisis Intervention Specialists” freeze up and do nothing when the chips are down.  And then I glance at the calendar and see that it almost exactly one year since I had to bear down and start solving problems of an even more grave nature (see here). 

I am not writing this to toot my own horn, for it could be that next time I will be the one to freeze.  But, there is a reason that you can train with, watch videos, or listen to interviews with people like Paul Howe, Craig Douglas, Mike Pannone, William Petty, or Steve Fisher (among others), and hear the same lines about “problem-solving” over and over again.  Every self-defense scenario is problem—or series of problems—that has to be solved.  The one who can solve those problems most efficiently will probably come out the winner.  Accordingly, my suggestion is to seek out instructors and drills that will challenge your problem-solving abilities.  As with most things in life, it is only through such challenges that we can test ourselves and effect improvements.

There is a consistently irate parent I often deal with at work.  She believes the school district (not us) failed to identify her daughter—years ago—as a student with special needs.  Accordingly, she fell seriously behind in her work and will probably leave school with a certificate of completion rather than a diploma.  Mom is probably right, but she can never get past this “wrong” perpetrated on her daughter ten years ago.  She is all about reparations.  I had to explain to her at a meeting:  “I am not in the reparations business.  I am in the solving problems business.  How can we solve this problem to get the best possible outcome?”

Thanks for reading.  As always, we welcome comments below or on our Facebook page.  If you like what we offer, please share our blog with like-minded friends out there.  Stay safe!

One thought on “Survival of the Fittest (or Those Who can Problem-solve)

  1. Good article guys. I read that interview with Tom and it does have a lot of good points. You make some great points as well here. One thing I find disturbing is how much emphasis is spent in schools and other public places on fire code (a good thing) but totally lack preparedness for such incidents as active shooters. When was the last time we lost people in fire? It happens, but rarely, because appropriate measures are taken. People will not wake up and accept personal responsibility for preventing such things. We need to have armed teachers in schools and we need to rid this nation of the stupidity that is gun-free zones. Of course, everyone reading this blog knows that already!

    Liked by 1 person

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