What could possibly teach children, educators, EMS crews, the Montgomery County SWAT team, and law enforcement the best way to respond to an “active killer?”
How about a real-life, real-time, training scenario at Eaton High School.
The three and a half hour training session held at EHS, Friday, June 13, incorporated all aspects of law enforcement and education protocol to allow those involved to practice their responses to an active killer threat. The “Active Shooter” status is on its way out in Eaton, according to Eaton Police Chief Chad DePew. The term now used is “Active Killer,” and traditional lockdowns are no longer sufficient, according to DePew.
“With traditional lockdowns, everybody knows the expectations, everybody knows kids are just going to be hiding in a corner, and what we’ve learned is the killers, or the people there to cause harm also know that. It creates an environment where kids become easy targets. Enhanced lockdowns, where the entire school learns the acronym A.L.I.C.E (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate). The system is designed to give teachers and students options, instead of the traditional lockdown.”
Student actors, actress educators, actress student mental health counselors, and this reporter, gathered in the media center at Eaton High School where we were given roles and “bullet wounds”, constructed by makeup, plumber’s putty, and fake blood, to match.
From there, we, the actors, were told little about the process, especially on law enforcement’s role, to best authenticate the situation. The “active killer” in this scenario, who happened to be an active shooter, fired blank rounds from a real gun, with police supervision. All aspects of the scenario were bone-chillingly real for the actors. It was said in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, that the killer’s fired rounds didn’t sound like gun shots from a distance. This was found to be true. What sounded more like a large, heavy door closing, was in fact, a mock killer firing blank rounds coming down the hallway. As the “killer” moved closer to the room I was occupying, the sounds became more deafening, and much more real sounding.
Once the active killer “took his own life” in the room I was hiding in, we could hear the Eaton PD flood the hallways, communicating with each other in a fashion that seemed refreshing, but efficient. “Survivors” were rushed into a room, far from the (fake) bloodshed where we were “evaluated” by the Eaton EMS team, and were then transported in an ambulance to Eaton Church of the Brethren.
“Students” were interviewed by the SWAT team, where we were to react as someone would who had been in an actual killer situation. Sad, angry, guilty, sympathetic to the killer, anxious, were all emotions exhibited by actors to give the interviewer an authentic reaction in a situation such as this.
The scenario practiced one of many reactions students and teachers could exhibit during an active killer situation, however, there were some aspects we didn’t practice that day.
Chief DePew says another alternative is to actually run at the active killer, throwing them off-guard.
“Before Sandy Hook there was some push back to this kind of stuff because parents had the misconception, or a big myth, that this was teaching kids how to fight, and that’s not what we’re doing,” said DePew. “What we do teach them, is a last-ditch effort, or if they have no other choice but to attack the person trying to harm them, then yeah, we want them to attack instead of doing nothing … what we’re teaching them there is to not be a victim.”
Some actors in the training were told to run to the church, to bypass police and EMS, if they were “uninjured.” This teaches students to get away from the scene as quickly, but efficiently as possible. Chief DePew said this deprives the attackers from knowing the evacuation plan, where a collective group of children could be hiding.
“The point of evacuation is getting away from the threat … we don’t want an evacuation point,” said Chief DePew. An obstacle seen by law enforcement and teachers, is the training teachers receive regarding accountability of their students, and for them to be in one place. On the contrary, in the eyes of law enforcement, the main goal is to get students away from the threat at all costs.
“I’m not worried about accountability, because we’ll eventually account for them … I know this sounds crass, but, we know if a child isn’t dead inside the school, they’re somewhere,” said Chief DePew.
“Realistically, we’ll find them pretty quick anyway.” In the scenario, our names were checked against a main list when we were brought to the Wellness Building at EHS, to ensure we were all present. However, some names were purposefully added to the list, to train the Eaton policemen on their ability to locate those not physically in attendance.
“Overall things went pretty well,” said Chief DePew of the role play. “The cooperation with our fire and EMS went very well … One thing we really wanted to work on, something we really stressed during training, was getting the paramedics in there on scene.” Chief DePew said paramedics arrived on scene in less than ten minutes.
Officers meet at least once a month to hold an “active killer” training session to best combat an actual event, if it were to occur.
“We learned some things, not only tactically, things we can do differently … it really gives us a chance to fine tune those things. Things we’ve learned from this, we can incorporate in our monthly training … the goal isn’t to go in there and do things perfectly,” said DePew.
“I thank the schools for their participation, and the Montgomery County SWAT team,” he said. The SWAT team held a mock hotage situation the same day with student actors. The SWAT team and Eaton PD have had a “great, long term relationship” according to DePew.
Each school is taught variations of the tactic. For example, high schoolers are taught to fight back as a last resort, however, kindergartners are taught to scream and run.
Law enforcement has had the opportunity to hold meetings with school officials and teachers from Eaton Community Schools, to understand their viewpoints on the potential threat and vice versa, and overcome reservations about the training.