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'Run, hide, fight': Schools train for 'active shooter' situations

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NORMAL — Ideas are changing about the best strategy for reacting when an active shooter is in a school building, and faculty and staff at Illinois State University's lab schools recently had opportunities to practice the “run, hide, fight” approach.

The drill included barricading doors, throwing objects and even swarming a “shooter” — portrayed by an ISU police officer armed with a super-soaker water gun.

ISU Police Chief Aaron Woodruff said the standard practice has been to lock the door, turn out the lights and hunker down.

“A lot of times, that may not be the best option,” Woodruff said. “We're teaching teachers to look at options.”

Ryan Weichman, assistant principal at Metcalf Laboratory School, said the lockdown strategy was developed more to deal with outside threats coming into the school, but often the threat comes from within.

“We've been trained to continue to be passive,” said Weichman, but that approach and related strategies started to be rethought after the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999.

Weichman went through a training program called ALICE — Alert. Lockdown. Inform. Counter. Evacuate — at Heartland Community College last year.

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“It was really eye-opening,” he said.

Metcalf hosted another two-day training session this summer. Then Weichman, Woodruff, University High School Assistant Principal Steve Evans and Eric Hodges, ISU's emergency manager, compared notes and adapted the training to local needs.

They adopted the “run, hide, fight” catchphrase because it's easy to remember in the heat of the moment, much like youngsters are taught to “stop, drop, roll” if their clothing catches fire, Evans explained.

The recent training sessions at Metcalf and U High included faculty and staff, including office staff and building services workers, as well as frequent substitute teachers.

It's easy in many areas to think “it can't happen here,” but Twin City educators remember when a Normal Community High School student brought a loaded gun to school in 2012, firing several shots into the ceiling before he was subdued and disarmed by a teacher and other students.

Woodruff uses the NCHS incident as a frame of reference in training.

At least one person, near an exit, ran out of the building when he heard the shots, Woodruff said. Most, not certain what was happening, locked themselves in their rooms.

The teacher in the classroom where it happened didn't have the option to run or hide, so he fought, said Woodruff, adding each did the right thing for their situation.

During the recent training at Metcalf and U High, the idea of having drills in which barricades were built, for example, was to build muscle memory and show people what they can do, Woodruff said.

Using desks, tables, filing cabinets and even belts, they had doors barricaded in minutes, he said.

Much like a flight attendant advises you before takeoff to note the nearest exit, Woodruff and the other trainers told teachers to note where the nearest doors and windows are.

Among questions participants were asked to consider were: Can you get out the window, if necessary? Can you jump? Are students in the room old enough to help or follow directions to get out quickly, or is it better to keep them in place?

Evans said, “The next step is getting our students prepared for a situation.” Such training would have to be age-appropriate, Weichman said, acknowledging, “It's a sensitive topic.”

The schools also are upgrading the ability to communicate in every room, so people know what's happening and where the shooter is located, Evans said.

Woodruff also talks about prevention and “communicating concerns or threats to the appropriate authorities so we can intervene before there is a major incident,” he said.

Evans agreed that “the No. 1 piece for us … is prevention.”

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota


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