Schools were once seen as easy places to inflict mass casualties with little resistance with an abundance of news coverage.
On December 14, 2012, the mass shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School was the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Adam Lanza, age 20, killed his mother inside their home and then went to the school and killed 20 first graders and six staff members with a semi-automatic rifle. After killing people at the school, he committed suicide with a handgun as police arrived at the scene.
Yet another large school shooting was on April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School, outside of Denver, Colorado. According to an updated article in the New York Times by Gina Lamb, two students, Eric Harris, 18 and Dylan Klebold, 17, walked into the high school and shot and killed 12 students, one teacher and themselves. The article explained that the actions occurred after a yearlong plot that included plans to blow up the school and kill up to 500 people. Based on the article, Columbine High School had the record for the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history until the shooting at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007 when a student killed himself and 32 people.
Since the Sandy Hook shooting, the U.S. has averaged about one shooting per week in schools. Like many communities, people in Denver and at sandy Hook were shocked when it happened on their doorsteps.
With school shootings taking up headlines, Wayne County law enforcement was not going to wait and take any chances on not being prepared for a school shooting, or hostage situation. Lieutenant Robert Milby of The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office leads the Emergency Response Team trained and deal with the possibilities. His team has so far trained 145 law enforcement officers on the newest protocols on how to respond to an active threat/shooting.
According to Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts, the police department has been providing active threat training since 2001 to the 11 schools in the county. Virts stated that to this day they have completed 10 trainings, one included in each calendar year at all of the schools. Virts also mentioned that this year is the first year all law enforcement including officers, the fire department, emergency response team, and any other law officials who carry firearms are required to participate in the training sessions.
“It’s better to be trained than to have an event,” said Virts. The Sheriff explained that Milby created the idea to start active threat training at schools in 2001. “I expanded that idea to involve all law officials,” said Virts.
Milby stated that the issue of school shootings became more serious than it already was after the Sandy Hook shooting, because the President of the United States made it mandatory that all law enforcement officials participate in these practices.
Milby has traveled to New Mexico and along the east coast to take part in Homeland Security training programs which offer an updated approach. Common lock down procedures include closing the windows, locking the doors, covering any windows, turning off the lights, moving all students to the back of the classroom and remaining quiet until the drill is over. During that time, law officials check the hallways to make sure the school is clear of danger.
The drills are meant to be as real as possible so that everyone is prepared if a real event were to occur. Milby also stated that the criminal justice students who attend BOCES help with the drills by monitoring the hallways.
North Rose-Wolcott School Resource Official Scott Baker said the active threat trainings in his District take place twice a year. The first drill is announced and takes place in the Fall and the second one occurs in the Spring and is not announced. “We have full cooperation from law enforcement during our drills which help make them authentic,” said Baker. He stated that the purpose of the drills is to prepare staff and students, but to also identify improvements to ensure all students and staff will be safe in an emergency situation. The drills also allow law enforcement to become familiar with the buildings, according to Baker.
“The next plan is determining how to get response teams in the schools from the back,” said Virts.
On July 28, Virts will be meeting with school superintendents to discuss that issue for drills taking place next school year.
Gananda School District Superintendent Shawn Van Scoy stated that the active threat drills are a good thing to practice however, the school doesn’t get enough practice with lock downs. According to Van Scoy, last summer, the principal, athletic director and health administrations attended a Homeland Security management screening at Monroe Community College. There, they were taught active training for emergencies by police officers.
Van Scoy shared his concern that there are requirements for fire drills each year, but there are no requirements for active threat practices.
“I think we should have fewer fire drills and more active threat drills because there have been more threats at schools than there have been fires in schools,” said Van Scoy.
by Jessica Colon