The Ottumwa Courier

February 27, 2013

Training for the unthinkable: No blanket policy exists for responding to school shootings

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Local law enforcement will band together with area school districts this spring to prepare for something they pray never happens here: a school shooting.

Wapello County Emergency Management has coordinated an “active shooter” response course for school administration this May, funded by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant.

The course will cover the ALICE system: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.

Josh Stevens, emergency management coordinator, said so far, administrators from three school districts in Wapello County (Ottumwa, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont and Cardinal) are attending, as well as some districts from outside the county.

“It’s an opportunity for them to learn what the ALICE program is and whether it’s something they would or could implement in their schools in some fashion, either partially or wholly,” he said.

Stevens, along with an Ottumwa police officer and a Wapello County Sheriff’s deputy, attended an ALICE training program in Marshall County last summer.

“ALICE allows you to consider other options for the specific situation you might be in,” Stevens said. “Administrators from each facility or school district then decide how they want to implement it and what age groups they’ll do different things with to make it a better fit for their school district.”

The older a person is, the more they’re likely to understand how to take direction in a stressful situation, Stevens said, which is why the plan can change depending on the age of the student.

“Building administrators have a better pulse than somebody from outside as far as what’s best for students depending on their age group,” he said.

ALICE is not a blanket policy, he said. Local discussions must be held between faculty and administration.

The training will also be the perfect time to network between law enforcement, emergency services and schools, “so everyone is on the same page and can respond effectively to the situation.”

Sometimes, lockdown is the best option. But in addition to lockdown, ALICE provides other options that teaches administrators how to respond.

“Again, that ‘one size fits all’ solution to the problem doesn’t work,” he said. “What works for one building may not work for another, not only in schools but in businesses. Depending on the layout of the facility, lockdown may be the only option.”

“One size fits all” also does not apply to each of Ottumwa’s schools, said Ottumwa Superintendent Davis Eidahl.

Right now, Ottumwa’s response to active shooters depends on the building due to each building’s varied design and layout.

“A couple are open pod type buildings and in those, we evacuate,” he said. “In others, it would be lockdown. This situation is reviewed with faculty just like every other situation: fire, tornado.”

While some buildings do conduct physical drills for tornados or fires, elementary schools are less apt to do a lot of drilling “because we don’t want to frighten the children.

“But our administration does take teachers and employees through it so they can lead students through if they’re ever faced with such a scenario,” he said.

Local law enforcement trains for active shooter situations when they are able, Stevens said, which includes Ottumwa’s three school resource officers (two at the high school and one at the middle school).

Eidahl said his district has become more familiar with ALICE since some employees have attended training in the past couple years.

“We have altered our procedures from three to four years ago as a result of this training,” he said. “We’ll be sending representatives from the elementary, middle and high schools for more of that training [in May].”

Those representatives will then report back with the district and make sure policy is research-based and aligned with what trainers have discovered over the last 10 to 15 years.

“One of the most valuable parts of ALICE training is the discussion it sparks between school administrators and private businesses and law enforcement,” Stevens said. “Everyone sees the situation through their own circumstances, so this allows people to have an open discussion during training and get other people’s viewpoints. It’s eye-opening.”

ALICE teaches proactive, instead of passive, strategies, such as examining the physical security of a building and getting to know its weak points and layout.

During the course, attendees will also watch video examples from other active shootings, as well as interviews of staff and students afterward, which can help “guide our future response,” Stevens said.

“I think the purpose of this training is definitely to get the schools, private entities and law enforcement on the same page and make sure their plans are up-to-date,” he said. “ALICE is another tool in the toolbox to respond. The more options you have, the better off you are.”

The worst case scenario is the community thinking “it won’t happen here” and then not being prepared.

“... we do have a plan right now, but this will help to improve upon it and open the lines of communication,” Stevens said.

Response Options’ “Active Shooter Response Instructor Course”

8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. May 16-17

Indian Hills Community College Rural Health Education Center Room 111

Pre-registration required

To register, contact Andrew James at ajames@storycounty.com or 515-382-7229. Last day to pre-register is May 2.

Include name, agency, business address, business phone number and individual email address.

Tuition is free; training materials included.

The course has a limit of 35. Exceptions cannot be made after that point, said Josh Stevens, since the class becomes too large to be effective.