JEWISHcolorado Safety Training can save lives
“If you hear gunshots and start running, how do you know you are not running toward the shooter?”
“If we have police officers in our school, are they trained to protect us?”
“If you are in a high school that has multiple buildings and there are shots fired in another building, do you stay where you are or do you run?”
Those were just some of the questions on the minds of teenagers who attended a JEWISHcolorado Safety and Security training the first week of April.
JEWISHcolorado organized trainings on two consecutive evenings in the wake of the March 22 shooting at East High School which sent two administrators to the hospital, one with life-threatening injuries, and the Feb. 13 shooting outside East when a student, Luis Garcia, sustained injuries that led to his death.
There was standing room only at the second evening of training, as more than 100 teens representing public and private high schools from across the metro area and parents gathered to hear guidance from JEWISHcolorado’s Regional Security Advisor Phil Niedringhaus.
Niedringhaus began by giving his audience a sense of why they should listen to him. With 36 years of law enforcement experience, including 29 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation during which he worked undercover with the white supremacist hate group Aryan Nations, he speaks with well-earned authority.
“He is a commanding presence,” one parent said after the training. “His message came through loud and clear, and he brought it to a different level for us.”
Niedringhaus’s mission that evening was not to talk about his expertise. It was to empower his listeners to feel more confident about taking action when they were threatened.
“It doesn’t matter if something happens to you in a school, a theater, a store,” he told the group. “This training does save lives.”
Practical guidance for survival
“Where would you go if something happened in the space you are in right now?”
With that opening question, Niedringhaus had the group’s full attention. He had introduced a theme that would resonate throughout the evening—always be aware of your surroundings. For more than an hour, he talked straight talk—no jargon, no sugar-coating his message. He gave the teens and parents practical strategies for preventing and surviving a mass attack.
He reminded students that, despite the recent focus in Colorado on school shootings, they are more exposed to danger away from school than in school and that there are other ways to threaten people besides using a gun. He also asked the students to take responsibility for the safety of their community by using a tool like Safe2Tell, an anonymous way to report information about safety concerns.
“In 75 percent of school shootings, other students knew something might happen before it happened,” he said. “If you know something, you have to say something.”
Throughout the evening, Niedringhaus emphasized the need for people to protect themselves in a threatening situation—to act, rather than to sit back and do nothing. He offered useful advice and memorable tips like never propping open a door to a building that should be locked.
For anyone in the room who might doubt that violence could ever touch them, he listed a series of tragedies from the Virginia Tech shooter who killed 32 people in 2007 to the ISIS terrorist who drove a truck down a New York bike path killing 8 people in 2017 to the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting in 2018 where 11 died.
Niedringhaus assured his audience that being scared in a life-and-death encounter is normal, but if they remember their training, they would be able to rise above their fear and “commit to action.” The three action points he emphasized—Run, Hide, Fight—gained national attention after they were used by Michigan State University in a message to students in Feb. 2023 when an active shooter killed three students on campus.
“Run away as fast as you can, if there is no place to run, barricade yourself, and finally fight to survive,” he told his audience. “Fighting is a team sport. Use weapons of opportunity. A chair can be your weapon.”
How training saves lives
The training at JEWISHcolorado was just the latest in a series of safety and security efforts that began in 2019 when JEWISHcolorado launched the Regional Safety & Security Initiative in partnership with the Secure Community Network (SCN), the Rose Community Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation. The SCN is the official safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America.
As a representative of SCN at JEWISHcolorado, Niedringhaus provides safety services and trainings to nonprofits and religious organizations of any denomination, including security advice and consultation, safety and security training, and information sharing based in SCN’s national headquarters. These services are available 24/7, free of charge to all nonprofit and faith organizations.
As an example of how training can save lives, Niedringhaus pointed to the Colleyville, Texas, synagogue where a gunman took four hostages in January 2022. The hostages escaped unharmed after fighting back, using training they had received from multiple organizations, including SCN.
While parents might wish that their high schoolers should not have to worry about dying during the school day or spend an evening learning how to survive a mass casualty event, the students’ questions indicated that they understand this is the world they live in. And in that regard, parents may be learning from their children.
“How sad and frightening it is to have to think about our kids in this situation,” one parent said as they left. “We want our kids to be able to work hard and focus in school, and instead, they live with this fear. But I think it’s so important that they learn to take care of themselves from different sources. The more they hear it, the more it sticks.”