Active shooter training offers new tactics for Eastern Iowa schools

Lessons move beyond hiding, hoping to confronting, evacuating

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A shooter is in your school. Or your child’s school, your husband’s business, your mom’s office.

Escape isn’t an option. Locking in place — barricading the doors and hiding — is the next best move. But the lockdown is breached. The shooter, brazen and ruthless, is in and is eyeing his would-be victims. For anyone staring back, police have this advice.

Fight. Survive. Counter the shooter.

“I know counter is difficult for you, but that might be our only option,” Iowa City police Crime Prevention Officer Jorey Bailey told staff at Iowa City’s West High School last week.

Authorities across Eastern Iowa, like Bailey, are going into schools, businesses and universities to train and retrain employees on how to respond in an active shooter scenario. Previous training emphasized “locking down” if immediate escape isn’t an option. But today’s training makes that just one tool in an arsenal of defense options.

“We’ve been taught to lock in place, hunker down and hope for the best,” Bailey told the West High faculty. “But hope is not a strategy.”

Tragic incidents — including mass shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, a Colorado movie theater in July, and a Connecticut elementary school in December — have shaped the new training, Bailey said.

“We are no longer the first responders,” he said. “You are the first responders, and we are giving you that power.”

Bailey said he and other local officers went through the new training program called ALICE — which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Escape — in 2010. But, he said, many school districts are getting trained with the new material for the first time now.

And, Bailey said, businesses like ACT in Iowa City also have recently contacted police to receive active shooter training.

“I don’t know if it’s in response to significant events or if it’s just time to revamp emergency planning,” Bailey said.

Training changes

As students returned to school in the fall, the Iowa City Community School District was looking into putting staff through the new training, said Susie Poulton, district director of health and student services.

“Then Newtown happened,” she said, “and it reinforced that we need to move ahead with this.”

Working with Bailey and the Iowa City Police Department, Poulton said, the district plans to have all administrators and staff — spanning all grades and buildings — trained by the end of this school year. Student training, and what it will look like, will be addressed this spring or next fall, Poulton said.

“Our kids need to know what to do, so we’ll be doing some drills,” Poulton said. “But we really need to put some thought into this and make sure we’re doing this the right way.”

No one wants to have to counter an intruder, she said, but research has shown that the more tools potential victims have, the greater the survival rate.

“In the past, there weren’t a lot of options,” she said. “Our protocol was to hide or lock down.”

The new training urges teachers and students to assess the situation and determine the best option — be it evacuating, hiding, locking down or countering the gunman.

Policy changes

Beyond training, school districts and businesses are making additional changes to prevent or prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Some are assigning entry cards to staff, allowing them to track everyone who enters and leaves. The Iowa City Police Department is getting building schematics for all the schools, including room numbers.

Police also are asking teachers to place room number placards on their windows, so officers can find their way from outside the building. And, Bailey said, officers want teachers to be able to make building-wide announcements from landline phones in their classrooms.

At the University of Iowa, faculty members have started putting signs with the building’s name, address and room number by classroom clocks so students and staff members don’t have to worry about remembering that information in an emergency.

That and more is happening in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, said Laurel Day, district security manager. After attending ALICE training herself, Day said she spoke with the superintendent and the Cedar Rapids police about making changes.

“The district has always practiced lockdowns, and we still feel that is a step we need to practice with our staff,” she said. “However, we also have started talking now with our administration and staff about making evacuation part of our procedure.”

Police have talked with administrators about doing simulations in some schools, Day said.

“We haven’t done a lot of simulations in the past, but we might think about doing a little more in the future,” she said.

Day said the Cedar Rapids district has made security upgrades a priority as well, adding identification badges for staff members that eventually will work as building keys. The district also is updating security cameras in high schools and middle schools and will have cameras in all of its 21 elementary buildings by summer, Day said.

The district is working with the police department to give officers access to those cameras.

Maria Martin, an academic dean at Iowa City’s West High, went through ALICE training in February and liked that it offers more options and gives responders flexibility. She said it seems very common sense.

“I appreciate the tip about throwing everything if an intruder makes it into the classroom,” she said. “Causing that chaos and confusion is one of the most practical things you can do.”

Martin said she’s glad the staff is going through the training but worries about running drills with the children.

“I think dramatizations can wait,” she said. “We don’t want to create panic when it’s not necessary. And dramatizations can be traumatic for kids.”


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