New plan: Get the kids out
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · April 26, 2013

If an active shooter enters a West Branch school, a proposed plan evacuates everyone not trapped by the gunman.

Superintendent Kevin Hatfield and West Branch Police Chief Mike Horihan told the Board of Education on April 8 that the fundamental changes suggested to the district’s Crisis Management Plan come from studying school shootings like Newtown, Columbine and Virginia Tech.

The updated crisis plan not only changes what school staff should do, but what they should say, Hatfield said.

“Before, we would announce ‘Lockdown!’” he said. “(Now) we say (something like) ‘Lockdown! Gunman in administration hallway!”

The idea is that anyone who can escape, should, because getting outside gives potential victims a place to run and spread out, he said.

“We want to empower them,” Hatfield said.

The plan follows the acronym A.L.I.C.E. — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.

“Information is key to good decisions,” the superintendent said, and information should “flow” in all directions through any means possible — texts, the public address system, digital signs, Web, Twitter, Facebook and more.

Horihan said it normally takes police an average four to six minutes to arrive on scene, in which time a shooter can kill or injure many people. It took police 10 minutes to reach Columbine.

In a Power Point presentation, Hatfield noted that at Virginia Tech, 32 people were killed and 23 were injured by a single gunman.

Hatfield also provided links to news stories about teachers who tackled or went after shooters. The teachers were called heroes, he notes, because even if they were injured or even killed, they saved many lives.

“It makes me anxious at times,” Hatfield said about suggesting teachers try such tactics. “But police miss 80 percent of their shots in dynamic events.”

Statistics of mass shootings show that “doing something” greatly decreases the death toll. In another slide, Hatfield showed a diagram of Norris Hall and the number of people who died versus the number in each classroom. A classroom of 14 people had 10 killed and two wounded, and a second classroom of 19 people had 12 killed and six wounded — in both cases nobody left.

In two classrooms where they tried barricading the door, a classroom of 13 had five killed and six wounded, and a second class of 12 resulted in no injuries nor deaths.

But in a class where students jumped out the window, a classroom of 19 people left two killed and 3 wounded.

“If (a shooter) gets inside, we get outside,” Hatfield said.

Horihan said the school district needs to have a plan.

“If there’s not plan, we’re responsible,” he said. “In these situations, by the time law enforcement responds, the crisis is over before we reach the door. We have to have people inside the school trained. In a true lockdown, students are basically sitting ducks.”

Horihan said that only in 2 percent of mass shootings is there more than one gunman, and they are usually amateur shots.

“These are not trained shooters, but their kill rate (is high),” the police chief said. “If we’re moving, we’re hard to hit. Now if the gunman is outside the door, that’s the time to lock down. But if they’re on the other side of the building, get out.”

When two shooter moved through Columbine, police were trained to stay outside and wait for the SWAT team, Horihan said, but that took 45 minutes to an hour.

“People were dying,” he said. “Now we’re told to enter right away. When (the shooter) sees an officer coming, (they) kill themselves.”

The outline of the plan does provide some flexibility, according to Hatfield’s PowerPoint presentation. As far as “empowering” students and staff, the district wants them to know they can “evade” or “escape” if they see a chance.

“You can survive contact with an armed intruder,” reads the presentation. Since the shooter is likely untrained, “engage in acts that will require very high skill level: noise, movement, distance, distractions.”

Once outside, the staff and pupils ought to already know where to “reunite” once out of danger, read the information.

Hatfield said the school district will send out letters next month to give parents more details and teachers and staff will get more training in coming months. There will likely be other presentations to the community as well, Horihan said.

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