School staff trained for response to active shooterBy:
Leader Photo by Tim Ryan
Participants throw rubber balls at a gunman and prepare to swarm him during a training exercise Thursday in the Board Room at Shawano Community High School.
Leader Photo by Tim Ryan
Ed Dorff, professional consultant and certified ALICE trainer, left, briefs participants wearing protective gear for an active shooter drill Thursday at Shawano Community High School.
Several unthinkable, but very possible scenarios were played out Thursday at Shawano Community High School, as staff and visitors were suddenly faced with a gun-wielding intruder launching into a killing spree.
The drills were part of a training exercise intended to provide options for responding to a situation that has become all too familiar across the country in recent years.
The traditional response for schools faced with an active shooter entering the building has been to go into lockdown. A more aggressive approach called ALICE provides an “options-based strategy” that espouses key components of Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.
Lockdown is still an option, but with the added initiative of barricading the door if there’s no way out.
In cases where evacuation isn’t possible, the ALICE model promotes the “counter” option, which could include anything from distracting the shooter by throwing things at him to swarming over him and taking him down.
“The key thing here is survival,” said Ed Dorff, a professional consultant and certified ALICE trainer with E&B School Security, who led the training sessions at SCHS.
Participants went through classroom sessions Wednesday, learning about ALICE, and put what they learned into practice Thursday with four drills.
The first was a traditional lockdown “to show what happens if you don’t do anything,” Shawano Community High School Principal Scott Zwirschitz said.
In that first drill, the shooter was able to hit 26 of the 36 participants.
The second drill gave participants a chance to flee, and the number hit dropped to about seven or eight, Zwirschitz said.
Participants were then put through two scenarios that also gave them the option to swarm the shooter and take him down.
Both scenarios were played out in the school district Board Room, where a disgruntled member of the public suddenly produces a gun and starts firing. Some participants fled and others threw rubber balls they had been provided with at the shooter.
In the first of those exercises, seven people swarmed the shooter and managed to grab his gun. Five people were hit and two of those shots would have been fatal had they been real.
Ten people swarmed the shooter during the second run-through and only two were hit this time, including what would have been a fatal shot to the shooter’s intended target — a superintendent making a presentation.
Dorff said it should be clear the difference the ALICE options and training can make.
“Heaven forbid you ever have to use it, but you can see, lockdown alone isn’t enough. There are other options,” he said. “The more we think about it, the more we train for it, the more instinctive it will become.”
Dorff said these are life skills that can be applied in just about any situation.
“God knows active killers don’t just go into schools,” he said. “Forty percent of the time they attack schools, but they also attack churches, they attack malls, they attack places of business.”
Shawano Police Officer Kurt Kitzman said he has been teaching his 12-year-old what to do to be prepared in any public place where a shooter could show up.
“If you’re in a restaurant, if somebody comes in that door with a gun, where do you go? He’s already got a plan, and that’s literally half the mindset,” Kitzman told participants. “If you guys sit in different rooms and start thinking about that, you’re one step ahead.”
Kaitlyn Gitter, a therapist with the Department of Community Programs, said she felt the training was important.
“We need to be prepared for these sorts of things that can happen anytime,” she said.
Gitter conceded, though, that her first instinct was to flee during the exercises.
“Apparently I’m more of a runner,” she said. “I wouldn’t be one to swarm, but it’s important to have at least thought about it.”
Stephanie Landerman, dean of students at Seymour Middle School, said she felt more prepared after the training.
“I feel much more equipped to handle a situation if there was an intruder in school because rather than relying strictly on instinct, I would rely on the training that I received,” she said.
Jeannie Jafolla, regional learning manager for the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s Shawano center, said it was an excellent opportunity to learn what to do in a situation like this.
“You hope it never happens, but if you’re more prepared you have a chance to survive and help others to survive,” she said.
Hillcrest Primary School Principal Troy Edwards said the Shawano School District’s Safety Committee has been talking about ALICE for a while.
He said participants from Shawano schools will be able to train other staff in each building.
Edwards said the drills showed how helpless it feels to be part of a lockdown.
“When you have options, you feel a lot more empowered and trained and equipped, that you could handle an emergency situation,” he said.
Zwirschitz said anything school staff can do to keep the kids safe needs to be on the table.
“Having those options is the right choice for the school district,” he said.
Zwirschitz also praised the cooperative efforts of school and law enforcement.
“It’s great that the schools and police are working together to keep our kids safe in the Shawano community,” he said.
• The ALICE training Wednesday and Thursday included participants from the Shawano, Antigo, Merrill, Pulaski, Seymour and Wittenberg-Birnamwood school districts, as well as Unity School District in Balsam Lake.
• Other participants included Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and the Shawano County Department of Community Programs.
• Law enforcement agencies involved included the Shawano Police Department, Shawano County Sheriff’s Department and officers from Antigo, Leona, Marion, Janesville and Marinette.
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