Lesson: How to handle a shooting
SWAT team shows teachers, staff their role in emergencies
By Catherine Kavanaugh
Daily Tribune Staff Writer
One of the hardest lessons taught Thursday to teachers watching a simulated shooting scenario at Royal Oak Middle School is not to open their locked classrooms to students begging to get inside as gunshots echo in the hallway.
Don't compromise a secure room, Ferndale Lt. Bill Wilson told about 70 teachers, counselors and administrators at a three-hour training session put on to show public and private school staff in Royal Oak, Berkley and Oak Park how they should respond to such an emergency.
Teachers should lock the classroom door. Barricade the door. Get students away from windows and keep them out of the sight and out of the line of gunfire.
"Let nobody in. Trust nobody," Wilson said. "If 22 kids are in the room and one is out there saying he's shot or hurt, leave that kid out there. It may seem heartless, but instead of risking one student you could risk a whole classroom being killed."
The shooter could be posing as a victim or close enough to barge in at the same time, according to Wilson and members of the Southeast Oakland SWAT Team who put on the training session.
Danielle Cover, who teaches first grade at Norup International Academy, Berkley, said she would have to fight emotions to not help a child to safety.
"I know in my heart of hearts that makes sense and I will have to push emotion aside for the benefit of my kids," Cover said.
Teachers also were told to leave blinds open on exterior windows for police to see inside as they search for the suspect. However, they should close blinds on classroom doors to protect students from the shooters.
Police also told school employees to forget about the placard system. Educators once were told to slip a green paper under the door if their room is secure or red for trouble.
"The bad guys know about this so they can use placards to confuse us," said Royal Oak Lt. David Clemens.
If a school employee sees a suspicious person in the building, they should call police right away and not their supervisor.
"You're burning valuable time," Wilson said.
If the caller says the intruder is a gunman or a terrorist is in a school, police immediately will send an entry team into the building to look for the suspect. This is a lesson they learned in 1999 from Columbine High School, where two students went on a rampage killing 15 and injuring 24.
"The police waited for the SWAT team to go inside and there was a lot of carnage," Wilson said.
The entry team of officers will step over injured students, not stopping to help them, as they sweep the building to find the suspect and put an end to any more gunfire. They won't knock on classroom doors. They will use pass cards or gain access another way. Then, they will order everyone to lie on the floor with their hands in plain view as they follow the policy of trusting no one.
Some teachers wanted to know if they should try to fight a gunman or hostage taker. SWAT team members said that's an individual choice.
"What do you have to lose?" Wilson asked. "In some cases you might as well die trying."
There were 42 U.S. school attacks between February 1995 and February 2008 with dozens of students and teachers killed each year, according to Clemens. He compares that to one student fire death in the last 27 years, which is due in part to decades of fire drills.
"The threat of an active shooter taking someone's life is more realistic than someone dying in a fire, so we have to be prepared for these things," Clemens said.
After police clear an area of the building, or the suspects are in custody or killed, more emergency personnel will enter the school. They will be the teams to tend to the injured and escort people from classrooms.
As the SWAT leaders wrapped up the lecture, simulated gunshots rang in the hallway and student actors with the Madison Heights Explorers ran into the room and ducked for cover. Two shooters armed with handguns followed, cursing classmates for poor treatment over the years. One killed some students while the other went to another wing of the school to hunt down a teacher.
Drill spectators then followed police and the SWAT team as they took down one shooter and located the other in a classroom with the targeted teacher and classmates.
"The situation is contained here so we can send in help for the injured," Clemens told the group.
Then, they watched police negotiate the surrender of the gunman who took hostages in a classroom.
Sheila Goldberg, a school counselor in Oak Park, took notes throughout the training session.
"This has been a good refresher, like keeping the kids out of sight by the hallway wall so the gunman can't see them inside the classroom" Goldberg said. "Fortunately we haven't had to deal with this and you tend to forget things."
With school bullying a problem everywhere, it seems a school shooting could happen anywhere, Goldberg added.
"I can see why these kinds of drills should be essential," she said. "Bullying is a real concern and it seems to come to the forefront in high school. The anger from middle school turns into a plan in high school. It's frightening."
Goldberg is making emergency response flip charts for classrooms in Oak Park, Berkley and Royal Oak -- three districts that received a $244,000 grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free School to improve crisis management training.
"Then everyone will be on the same page and know what to do in any event -- a chemical spill, intruder or terrorism -- that would jeopardize lives," said Barbara Patrick of EduTech Solutions, Inc. of Bloomfield Hills, which handled the grant application.
In addition to the shooting scenario drill and flip charts, the grant will be used to train educators to deal with chemical spills and pandemics, provide basic life-saving skills, such as CPR, and to buy defibrillators for schools.
Contact Catherine Kavanaugh at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (248) 591-2504.