Consider last Friday job training no one wants, but now, everyone needs.
A series of active shooter trainings were held for Gulf County Schools, the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office, Gulf Coast State College, Florida Department of Health, Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf and Gulf County Emergency Management.
Educational sessions earlier in the week culminated with a lockdown exercise at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School run by an evaluation team from Disasters, Strategies, and Ideas Group (DSI), the organization responsible for designing and managing the exercise.
Teachers from Gulf County schools met on Wednesday for an educational session presented by Terry Schenk, exercise director for DSI. Schenk and his team shared videos and statistics with the teachers, mentally prepping them for how to handle a situation in which an active shooter enters the school, facility lockdown procedures and the role of local law enforcement.
“Hopefully this will never happen in your community,” Schenk said. “But let’s acknowledge that we have an active shooter problem in this country.”
Focused on stats generated from school shootings over the past decade, Schenk shared that most shootings last fewer than 80 seconds. The rate of school-related shootings rose from an average of five per year before 2008 to 15 per year in subsequent years.
As the number rose, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has put together an active shooter team and has offered free training to more than 500 police departments across the country. That training has begun to incorporate military style tactics including first aid.
Schenk also raised awareness on the average age of a shooter. In the tragedies across the U.S. in the past decade, the average shooter has been male aged 15-19 followed by those 10-14 years old.
“These events happen so quickly and 49 percent of the time, they end before law enforcement arrives,” said Cooper Maddox, a researcher with DSI. “It’s important to have a plan.”
Schenk shared warning signs that may help teachers to stop a problem before it ends in tragedy and the importance of being alert, aware of the surroundings and being able to think critically. The DSI team encouraged teachers to talk to students and listen to what’s happening within the student body.
The motto of the training was “run, hide, fight,” which encompassed one of the three actions teachers should take during an active shooter situation. Certified emergency manager and law enforcer Hayward Walker gave tips on how to escape a building quickly and quietly, how to successfully barricade classroom doors and how to fight if no other option is available.
“You are the first line of defense against active shooters,” Walker told teachers. “You are the heroes of this whole thing.”
On Friday, students were released for spring break before a lockdownexercise for teachers began. School personnel demonstrated their lockdown procedures, acting as though the circumstances were completely real.
They were graded by members of the DSI team.
Once the school had been completely locked down, members of the GCSO fired blanks from handguns, rifles and shotguns from various locations in the school so that each teacher would be able to identify the sound were it ever to occur again.
Following the lockdown exercise, teachers met to discuss areas of opportunity for their classrooms and made suggestions to help the process easier in the event of an actual emergency.
“This was something we needed,” Assistant Superintendent for Business, Duane McFarland told teachers after the exercise. “We’ve gained a lot of knowledge and while we hope it never happens, we’re a step closer to being ready for it.”
Once the teaching staff completed training, the GCSO staff ran through response scenarios around the school aimed to prepare them to respond to an actual shooter with a top priority of stopping the threat.
Student Resource Officer for Wewahitchka schools Donna Huggins said that active shooter training was important, especially for those officers without a military background who may not have the same experience when it comes to live combat.
“I’d rather know how to react rather than be put on the spot,” said Huggins. “It’s good preparation.”
Marshall Nelson, emergency management director for Gulf County said that he hopes to see another exercise over the summer utilizing student volunteers for added realism.
“When actual students are involved, that’s when you get the butterflies,” said Nelson. “This exercise isn’t meant to scare anyone; it’s us trying to prepare them.”
Within 30 days of completing the training, DSI will send a full assessment to all departments involved with suggested improvements to enhance the existing response protocols.
“We take very seriously the safety and welfare of our students, faculty and staff,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “It’s no simple task to put on an activity of this nature, but we’re glad that this is only an exercise and pray we never experience the real thing.”