By LINDA LOBECK
KINGSFORD - Every day last week there was a school shooting in the United States. And with that frequency and frightening statistic, a real threat exists in schools all across the country.
Theresa Peterson/Daily News Photo
Staff at Breitung Township Schools participate in an Active Shooter Training Program Monday. Pictured from left are Darren Petchar, Mark Moreau, Todd Veale, Bob Berbolm and Lyle Smithson.
To better prepare the staff in the Breitung Township Schools, an Active Shooter Training Program became a necessity for all school personnel. The Breitung Township Schools held the training Monday afternoon with 150 staff members in attendance.
Pete Schlitt, of the Emergency Services for Dickinson County, said that some of the training was going to be "intense, but worth the effort. It's unfortunate that we are here having to conduct this training. It's a sad time in our society."
The training was conducted by law enforcement personnel from many different agencies with Bob Berbohm, of the Delta County Emergency Management, leading the presentation.
He recalled that during the 1980s and 1990s, schools focused on fire drills and tornado drills and by 2000, it switched to lockdown drills. He showed school shootings dating back to 1997 in West Paducah, Ky., to the most recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School near Newton, Conn.
Although schools, like Breitung Township, do lockdown drills and practice them, they aren't prepared for a threat inside the building where, "If I can see you, I can shoot you," is the reality, Berbohm said.
In the lockdown stage, he talked about securing the doors of the classrooms, getting everyone out of the kill zone and shutting off the lights. If the lockdown is for someone outside, the doors should still be locked, blinds should be closed and any exterior doors locked.
Berbohm played the 9-1-1 call placed from Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, between a substitute teacher, who was eventually killed, and the emergency operator. In that situation, the doors were not locked, the kids were hiding under the desks and with windows all around them in the library they "were in a fish bowl" where the shooter could see them.
He noted that most schools don't train their substitute staff members on lockdowns or procedures that need to be followed.
Berbohm also talked about what happened during the shooting at Virginia Tech when it appeared that there was a murder-suicide. The 9-1-1 call made there said that two shots were fired and the body of a male and female were found by law enforcement. It wasn't until the scene was processed that they discovered that neither of the deceased had a gun and that there was still a shooter at-large.
He played a tape of that shooting where approximately 30 rounds were shot off in less than a minute. He asked that the group think about that amount of time and the two minutes or so that it would take law enforcement to get to their school.
"Shooters bring anywhere from 250-900 rounds of ammo when they go to a school," Berbohm said.
He also talked with the group about grab-and-go bags that will be placed in each room with items that they use during a lockdown including a piece of rope that they can put on the door handle and pull, like tug of war, to keep the shooter from entering the room.
Berbohm instructed the Breitung School staff on the three outs - Lock Out, Get Out and Take Out.
In lock out, you make sure to lock the doors, keep everyone quiet, turn lights off, get out of the kill zone.
He added that this is different in each building noting the youngest shooter was half way through the fifth grade.
"Ninety-five percent of the active shooters are male and we have only had two females," Berbohm said. "You need to know who is out there and use whatever you have to keep the shooter out including the desks to barricade the doors. What you are trying to do is buy 1-2 minutes of time for law enforcement to get there."
In the Get Out stage, a plan needs to be in place to determine if it's safe to leave the school. There also needs to be options whether you are on the first or second floor of the school building and can exit the windows or not.
"You need to consider, can I get out without being in the line of fire," Berbohm said.
Finally, Take Out involves fighting and using such things as keys or a pen to injure the shooter should he try and get in by breaking the glass on the door.
"You have to start thinking of what can I use to protect myself and the kids," Berbohm said. "Use a stapler, scissors, throw books, use a key to gouge their arm or a pen. You also need to see what the kids can use themselves and give direction. The fire extinguisher is my favorite weapon - don't be afraid to spray the shooter."
Following the presentation, Berbohm and the other law enforcement officers split the group up into different rooms and ran exercises on what could happen including firing off blank rounds from a gun to simulate what the sound would be like in a real situation.
"The only way to learn what to do is for me to increase your stress level this way," Berbohm said.
The exercises started out non-threatening and gradually became more intense as Berbohm promised.
Julie Santi, a first grade teacher at Woodland Elementary School, said that the training brought up situations she had never thought of before, like information on what to do in a hostage situation. She was also taught was that once the door is shut in a lockdown, you are not to let anyone back into the room no matter who they are. The only way you can open the door again is if a law enforcement officer is there along with the building principal.
"I feel safer now after taking the training. We have a plan already in the building, but need to fine tune it with this new information. This has raised situations I've never thought about or have been taught what to do like exiting with students from the building," Santi said.
She added that the teachers will now have walkie talkies in their classrooms as well as the bag of materials to aid them during a lockdown. The walkie talkies are also with each administrator so they have a private way to communicate with the staff and not have to use the public address system in these situations.
Being an elementary school teacher, it will take a different plan for barricading doors than what you can do with high school or middle school students.
"With this training, I feel that it's a start and I have a plan. I've never done anything like this before and it really brought it home that we have very little time to waste when this happens - every minute counts. We need to do these things to be proactive so the kids are safe. But those decisions you have to make as a teacher are life and death decisions. I have 30 young lives under my care each day. We now have tools to protect ourselves and our students," Santi said.
With the information presented Monday afternoon, she added they are now going back into their crisis team in each building to add to their lockdown plans.
"It was an educational experience and very eye opening. They taught us a lot of different scenarios and what we can do in each one," she added.
Kendalynn Sutton, a Kingsford High School teacher, also felt the training Monday was informational and reaffirmed the plan at KHS. With the information they gained from this training, she feels they are going in the right direction but need to make some adjustments to the plan.
"It was well done - and gave all of us a sense of what could happen with a shooter in the building. It was very intense, especially being in different groups and practicing what would happen. During the first couple of exercises we couldn't do anything but sit there, but the third time we put our plans into action and it felt good. I feel I will be able to make some good decisions with what I learned," Sutton said.
She also had praise for the presenters of the training and law enforcement officers involved.
"It was very well done," Sutton said. "Bill Berbohm is very knowledgeable and passionate about this training. We feel we are on the right track and our plan will be very solid. Having the walk talkies is a huge improvement so you can find out what's going on and get messages back and forth between administrators and staff."
She also felt that it's important to have different plans in place for each of the buildings.
"The high school students are able to advocate for themselves and help out in barricading doors," Sutton said. "At the elementary school, it's more the teacher's responsibility. It's a huge undertaking for the elementary school staff. And each building has different layers to it and logistics to evacuate."
Sutton added that they also need to practice lockdown situations when students are in more common areas between classes or during lunch periods.
"I found this to be incredibly valuable. It's something no one wants to think about happening, but if it does I feel a little more prepared. I feel we have a chance in that situation and that every second counts. You just don't think of how quickly something can happen. This was very powerful and eye opening for us today," Sutton said.
Linda Lobeck's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.