Havasu teachers get lesson in how to respond to a campus shooter
A woman screamed, then two shots rang out. Startled adults dove under tables while dozens more ran out of the library’s two exit doors. Others remained frozen in their seats, unsure how to react.
For a solid 20 seconds, the room was in chaos.
Only moments before, 175 teachers and administration officials at Lake Havasu High School were listening intently to speaker Chris Taylor Thursday afternoon. He was explaining what is known about the nature of active shooter situations and why it’s critical that U.S. educators be prepared.
“There’s one act of violence at a school each week,” he said. “The Department of Homeland Security advises run, hide and fight.”
The problem with that good advice is that it entails passive learning without the benefit of live training, he said. Taylor’s remarks fell on interested but tired ears. The teachers had been listening to him and other presenters for more than an hour. The educators were comfortably settled into their chairs, semi-relaxed after more than a half-day of working.
Taylor had them right where he wanted them. When the two shots were fired – blanks, actually – no one expected it.
After the heart-thumping exercise, the audience returned to their seats in a heightened state of awareness. Some giggled self-consciously at their table mates. Others fidgeted, while most everyone sat up a little straighter in their seats.
“I just exposed you to stress inoculation,” Taylor announced. “Now I’m going to teach you how to hide and fight. I’m going to turn you into immediate responders.”
He used the “immediate responder” term several times over the next 30 minutes. In an active shooter situation, first responders such as police and firefighters generally appear in the aftermath of such a crisis. Immediate responders, on the other hand, are the first component in the chain of survival. They are the people whom the shooter is trying to victimize, whether in a shopping mall, a school or a church, Taylor said.
“You’re going to learn valuable skills today. Know that in an active shooter situation, you’re going to be alone, on average, four to six minutes before help arrives. That’s why you need to have a survival mindset,” Taylor said.
While empowerment is sound advice for educators who spend every working hour in schools, Taylor’s words are also important knowledge for citizens. That’s why he and his group – ICSAVE – have educated thousands of people in Arizona on how to protect themselves and others from injury or death. ICESAVE is an acronym that stands for Integrated Community Solutions to Active Violence Events.
The nonprofit organization brought a dozen volunteers to Lake Havasu City from the reaches of southern Arizona to train Lake Havasu Unified School District personnel how to take back control from an active shooter. It is a return trip for ICSAVE. In September 2018, it presented the six-hour training session to Thunderbolt Middle School employees. The program is free to the district.
District Superintendent Diana Asseier addressed the group about the potential for an active shooter situation in Havasu before ICSAVE’s speakers began the training.
“In my heart, I know it won’t happen here. But in my head, I know it can. That’s why we need to be prepared,” she said, noting that she took the ICSAVE training when it was offered at Thunderbolt. “Even after the first two hours, I had confidence and I wasn’t a victim anymore.”
Getting down to business
The heart of the six-hour training session involved teaching the ALICE method. Another acronym, it stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. It outlines option-based responses to an active shooter gaining entry to a school, business or other confined area.
Alert is initial awareness of a potential danger. Lockdown is sheltering in place, which is often the best option. Inform is using tools such as PA systems, phones and real time cameras to spread information.
Counter is using noise, movement and distance to distract a shooter. For example, throwing a book or stapler can distract a shooter, decreasing accuracy. Evacuate can be leaving a building or moving away from the shooter. Further, a zig-zag run (versus straight line) can skew a shooter’s accuracy.
When the lecture concluded, the group moved into high school classrooms to practice what they learned. The ICSAVE team played the active shooters with Nerf guns. The school employees tested their mettle against the ICSAVE folks as they exercised their options.
They had many, as it turned out. And that was the point of the training, to ensure school staff will be in a state of readiness in the event of an active shooter crisis.