An active shooter simulation
Austin Peavy State University police officers clear a stairway in an active shooter simulation.
FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
You had better be prepared: No one will forgive you if you send kids home in body bags. Whether you have your own school district police, university police or department-contributed SROs, you better be ready.
Disaster can happen at any moment of any day. Your reaction and response will be critical and will directly relate to the number of survivors. From a train derailment emitting toxic fumes to an active shooter in your building, you had better be prepared to confront the problem head on.
The Bridge City Independent School District is located within the corporate limits of Bridge City in southeast Texas. Our town is located approximately 10 miles from the Louisiana border along Interstate 10 and has a population of approximately 9,000. There are numerous shipping ports and industrial facilities in our jurisdiction: An accidental explosion is just as possible as a planned one, so we regularly drill for both, as well as for an active shooter event at a school.
Note: When planning for any major training event, it’s critical to include all relevant agencies in your area—federal, state, county and local—both in the preplanning and the actual exercises.
A good first step for active shooter training at a school is to obtain aerial photos of your area schools and use these to discuss staging areas, approach and evacuation routes and entry and exit points on each school building. At most schools, all doors are not open at all times, so ensure you have detailed plans of what is accessible and when.
Have a designated area for parents to be routed to and/or media to locate. Remember: All first responders must have the same answers for the questions you will receive during an actual event. All locations, routes and designated spots have to be relayed consistently across agencies.
Designate your command post ahead of time. In Bridge City, our schools are equipped with numerous fixed and pan/zoom cameras in- and outside the buildings. Supervisors who respond to the command post will have immediate visual of the location, inside and out. This can also be viewed from a laptop in a vehicle. We are also fortunate to have pull-down steel-mesh gates that lock upon deployment, allowing sections and blocks of the school to be sealed off.
Ensure your officers are trained to respond to critical incidents both alone and in groups. An active shooter situation can’t wait for a SWAT team to gear up and arrive. When you conduct any drill—and especially an active shooter drill—keep it real! ( Editor’s note: Safety is paramount, and absolutely no live ammunition should be permitted into the drill area. Check and double check!) Have students and staff present during a regular school day. Leave your alarms on and fire strobes active as officers arrive and make entry. I assure you, officer response is very much affected when vision and hearing are compromised, as they would be in a real event. Because of the noise and light, they have to focus more on the instructions and/or hand signals. Remind your officers consistently to speak in plain language.
We have conducted these drills this way for some time now, and the responders, as well as the students, are more in tune with what they must do and where they must be. Don’t be discouraged if your first drill doesn’t go as well as planned. Review what might have been improved and drill on it again.
Generally speaking, students will do what you ask them to, if they understand what you’re asking. But if you scare them, they freeze. If you wave your arms and say, “It’s code four! Code four!” they’ll freeze, because they don’t know what you’re telling them. Waive your arms and say, “You’re OK. Come to me,” and they won’t hesitate.
Also keep in mind, you may be in an elementary school with students as young as four years old, and you’ll need them to move fast . It can be a literal life-and-death situation. Resist the urge to scream or become overly emphatic. Instead, remain calm but persistent in your message.
Don’t be afraid to review other incidents and implement codes to benefit your safety. We reviewed several school shooting incidents and then changed our codes to hopefully prevent tragedy in our jurisdiction. For example, we banned trench coats and duster coats to make it more difficult for students to conceal weapons on their person. All backpacks, duffle bags and vehicles on school grounds are subject to search. Any unattended gear is immediately inspected and removed from school buildings. Caps and sunglasses aren’t allowed on school property, and all entrances and exits are monitored.
You must do what you think best to maintain a safe and secure learning environment. It’s a lot easier to explain a code change that seems restrictive than it is to explain an injury or death. Whether born or created, monsters are real. Experience has shown us that they may be a stranger or they may be the kid at the next desk. Do everything you can do to keep innocents safe.
Realistic drills increase your odds of successfully managing a critical incident. So get drilling.