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Preparing for the worst

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FLEE: A student runs out of the library during the training. Students caught in an unsecure room or hallway are prompted to evacuate immediately as teachers are instructed to lock their doors, no matter what.
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SWEEP: Police secure the library of Riverview Middle School, on Monday during an active-shooter training as teachers watch and experience the chaos.
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HIDE: Students hide under desks during the staged shooting. The school system’s protocol is to either lockdown or flee, depending on the unique situation the student is in.

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

Tension ran high at Huntington County schools this week, as Huntington County Community Schools Corporation teamed up with law enforcement to hold active shooter training.

The sounds of gunshots echoed down the hallways of Riverview Middle School, and the smell of gunpowder filled the air Monday, as teachers got a first-person perspective of the chaos of an active shooter situation.

The district is training all of its staff in a two-day, four-building drill that will help teachers visualize how their policy would work in a real-life situation.

Huntington County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Chris Newton said while it’s sad they have to train for events like this, it’s not something you can just read about to be prepared to react.

“You have to mentally and physically prepare yourself for those sort’s of things,” Newton said. “Inside a school hearing gunfire is not normal. Teachers aren’t trained for that, and so for us to be able to bring that into the school, it helps them mentally prepare so that in the event that that actually does happen, they’re more mentally prepared.”

Newton said even though he’s trained for active-shooter situations in the past, instincts kick in.

“We just can’t repeat enough, train enough for these types of scenarios, so for us, the stress level is high … Every time you go in there – I was just drenched, sweating,” Newton explained. “It effects us just like everyone else.”

Some teachers visibly showed signs of distress during the drill, but by the end of the training, teachers expressed how the experience was eye opening.

Teachers said it would be hard to lock the door on student who may be trapped in the hallway during an emergency, but they learned that letting in an unknown student could put their entire class at risk.

A student in the hallway could be an attacker, and if teachers let in students even if they’re unarmed, the attacker may gain entry to their classroom, jeopardizing dozens of lives instead of a few.

By running through the active-shooter drill, teachers and students now know what to expect in an actual situation. If they are in the hallway, the protocol is to evacuate immediately.

HCCSC safety coordinator Jami Craft told the teachers that when an armed suspect is in the building, police will not stop to help students who’ve been injured by the attacker. This is because the main goal of police is to neutralize the attack.

It may seem harsh to lock out potentially vulnerable students or not help injured students, but if there is a system, Craft said people will know how they’re expected to react.

HCCSC uses a protocol called A.L.I.C.E., which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. Craft said it gives the staff and students flexibility in their reaction to best protect their lives.

“They have the choice to either lockdown and barricade within the classroom or evacuate to a rally point onto reunification with parents,” Craft said. “It really gives people the ability to increase their survivability, be aware of their surroundings and make a decision based on what’s happening in their surroundings.“

HCCSC already supplies law enforcement with “safety sheets” that detail each building’s layout and emergency contact information to help police respond to an incident.

The corporation has a school resource officer for this coming year, and it’s planning to add another as the year progresses.

Craft and law enforcement said the training was a success.

Teachers were even able to identify logistical improvements to better react to the situation. They said it would be good to allow teachers to use the PA from their classrooms to alert the building more quickly.

Craft said the biggest takeaway the teachers made today was how serious the situation was and the experience of reacting to an unnatural situation.

“Again, it’s not normal to hear gunfire in a school, but that’s why we did it – really heavily today – we wanted to make it sure that was a lasting memory,” Newton said.