Saturday, December 15, 2012

There But For the Grace of God...

I, like so many teachers across the country, was in shock as the events in Newtown, CT unfolded and were being reported out yesterday.   As I looked around my classroom I was reminded of the sense of innocence that had now been stolen by this unthinkable act, certainly for those children in  Sandy Hook Elementary School, but also for all children across our country.  They would go home and undoubtedly hear about this horrific massacre.  The world as they knew it when they entered our building that morning was not the same world they were going to enter back into that afternoon. It had been  forever changed by the events of the day.
Once they had all left the building, my colleagues and I began to gather in the hallways to share our sorrow. Predictably the conversation led to the reality that this tragedy could have happened anywhere, including our location. To say that's an unsettling realization would be an understatement. We all agreed that we would lay down our own lives for our's who we are. But we also talked about the false sense of security so many schools work under.  Emergency plans look good on paper. Evacuation and lock down drills are good.  But have we done enough?  I won't specifically share the safety concerns I have for my own teaching situation. I don't think that's wise...but I do have them...and I plan to voice them, on behalf of my students, to the appropriate school administrators.
I thankfully happened upon this guest blog post of Kristofor Still, a Nebraska officer with the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff's Department, and husband of a teacher. With he and his wife, Beth's permission, I am re-posting his post in it's entirety. Please take the time to read it all the way through.

My name is Kristofor Still (@kris_still). As you have probably guessed by now, I am married to Beth Still, who is the author of this blog. Before I dive too deep into this guest blog that Beth has asked me to write, I feel you need to know who I am and the level of experience I possess in my fields of expertise.

I have been in Law Enforcement now for almost 19 years; the last 13 years have been with the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Department in Nebraska. I have been a SWAT team member for the last 11 ½ years and a SWAT sniper for the last six years. I am also one of the department’s two firearms instructors. In May of 2012, I was given a great opportunity as I was one a select few from across the state who were able to gain a certification as an Active Shooter Response Instructor. I now teach a two day class to area Law Enforcement Officers along with my Sergeant, Troy Brown and Scotts Bluff Police Officer and fellow SWAT team member, Ian McPherson.

As most of you probably know by now, today was one of the most horrific days in the history of the United States. A killer walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and killed 20 children and 6 adults. Of those killed, a majority of them were Kindergartners.

When something like this happens and innocent children are killed, it tears at the hearts of a nation. Destroying what we as parents hold dearest to our hearts shock us to the core. It makes us realize how fragile life really is and how one crazed, sick person can take it away in the blink of an eye.
As I mentioned above, I am one of three instructors in our county that teach active shooter response to our area Law Enforcement Officers. Because of this, my wife knows that I am passionate about making sure that our officers are prepared both mentally and physically to go in and meet this evil head on and terminate it as quickly as possible in order to stop the killing.

Like most parents across our nation today, we talked at great length when Beth arrived home from school about what we can do as Law Enforcement Officers and Educators to stop this from happening. Beth came to me because she knows that I have also in the past gone to two of our area schools and provided them in-put on ways the school and teachers can protect themselves and the children. The sad thing about all of this is that my advice fell on deaf ears. I know that neither school followed through with any of the recommendations provided to them. I believe the reason that nothing was done was two fold. First of all, too many administrators fall into a comfort zone and genuinely believe that this kind of evil will never happen here. The second reason is because of the all mighty dollar. In both schools that I went to, I talked about purchasing certain items that could be used to aid teachers in protecting and or keeping intruders out of their rooms in the case that they were unable to escape. I felt that in both cases, I lost them once it came down to spending money.
I am often asked by people and teachers what they need to do in the case of active shooter in the building or school in which they are located. I start off by telling them to follow the acronym A.D.D. This stands for AVOID, DENY, DEFEND. I tell teachers, administrators, law enforcement officers, and citizens the same thing.

AVOID: Escape the scene as quickly as possible. If you are able to run, do so until you are sure you are in a safe place.

DENY (entry): If you unable to get out, barricade yourself in a room. Pile all of the furniture and heavy items in front of the door as possible and then quietly hide in the room in an area that would provide cover and concealment from an active shooter who wants to try to shoot into the room. Remember that an active shooters main goal is to kill as many people as possible to provide the greatest shock factor to his or her audience. They do not like to get hung up on a closed and locked door. This will slow them down too much for them to effectively accomplish their mission or goal. Most likely, they will move on.

DEFEND: If you are unable to escape or secure yourself in a safe room, you need to fight for your life. Find any items that you can use as a weapon. These are items of convenience such as a fire extinguisher, coat rack, trash can, chair, etc. If you are able to, find others in your same position that are of the sound mind and body to assist you in fighting for your life as well as the other innocent people who could fall victim to the senseless killing that is happening.

Another major problem that I am seeing in our schools is that our teachers are given a policy or a flip chart to follow in times of an emergency. This may work if you are talking about a fire drill or tornado drill, but teachers need leeway in their decision making when they are dealing with an active shooter. Most teachers are by nature known to be rule followers. This creates problems as they tend to fall back on a flip chart or policy and ignore that sixth sense about what they should do. The way I describe this to our new law enforcement recruits is by telling them that if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Learn to follow your sixth sense and do what you feel is right.

Early on in this post, I spoke about certain in-expensive items that I recommended these schools purchase for each teacher or each room. Below is a list of these items that I recommended to them and am now recommending to you.

1) Tactical door wedges. These can be found on-line and typically cost between $15 and $20 a piece. These secure the door to the floor from inside the room, so the door can be permanently locked. If done properly, the only way you can open the door is to tear it down with an axe or chainsaw.

2) A claw hammer with a long handle. These can be used as both a weapon to fight with or a tool to break and rake windows to aid in escape if your room has exterior windows.

3) Medical kit to include a turnicate and a clotting agent. Remember that the first responders that are entering the building are not there to provide medical attention to those that are injured. They by-pass the injured and going straight to the threat so they can stop the killing as quickly as possible.

4) Rope or fire escape ladders. To aid in escape through an outer window if you are on the second or third floor of a school or structure.

5) Emergency blankets. These can be used to help comfort the wounded or to throw over the broken glass in a window pane prior to escape.

6) Cell phones or emergency radios for each classroom. Communication is key to any law enforcement officers or tactical teams arriving on scene. If you are able to provide pertinent information to police dispatch, you can aid in response time by providing the locations of the shooter(s) inside the structure.

7) A box, tote, or five gallon bucket to hold all of these items as they are stored in a safe place inside the classroom.

As you can see above, these are not high priced items. Push your administrator to purchase these for each classroom and tell him or her why you feel it is important. If they refuse to help your school, find ways to make this happen on your own. Some of the items above may be lying around your house or garage and could easily be transported to your school. The rest that needs to be purchased could easily be justified as inexpensive life insurance policy.

As an educator you are responsible for protecting your students if at all possible. Too many times in these cases of school shootings, there were red flags that many noticed, but failed to report until after the unthinkable happened. If you see or hear something that you consider to be red flag with a student, report it. Start by telling an administrator or counselor. If this fails and you believe they pose a true threat, talk to one of your trusted law enforcement officers.

In closing, I want you to ask yourself this; could you live with yourself if you failed to prepare, act, or report a possible future threat that resulted in the death of a student, wife, husband, son, daughter, grandparent or co-worker. You owe it to yourself and your students to be their first line of defense by educating yourself and making good sound decisions!

Now that you've read this information, do the right thing and advocate for the safety of the children in your community. Share it with the administrators in your school district. Share it with your local School Board members.  Share it with teachers. Share it with parents. Keep sharing it! Our students deserve all the precautions we can take to minimize the loss of life in crisis situations.

I would like to thank Officer Still for writing this post. Also, thank you to his wife, Beth Still, for posting it and allowing me to re-post it here. If you have specific questions for Officer Still you can post them on the orginial blog post found at Nebraska Change Agent.