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Changing a mindset to save lives: Police practice how to deal with school shooting scenarios

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MAYSVILLE, Kentucky — In less than five seconds after hearing gunfire, almost 60 faculty and staff cleared the media room at Mason County Intermediate School through only two exits, or into locked rooms, away from where the shots came from.

The exercise, during training for Active Shooter Survival for School Faculty and Staff, worked like it should, Kentucky State Police officials said.

In a previous training session, one school staff member followed the initial instructions to run, and kept going all the way to a nearby business, officials said.

KSP conducted similar exercises recently at Mason County High School and Straub Elementary School, where staff learned more about surviving a live shooter situation.

At Straub, staff members exited the building at the sound of shots, and were seen hurrying over the hill on the school grounds until the all clear was given.

KSP Post 8 Morehead Commander Capt. Brian Bowling conducted part of the instruction.

"This isn't as much about what police do when they get here, but what you do in the time between when something bad happens and when police get here," Bowling said, crediting the Mason County Sheriff's Office for being prepared, with the ability to have a quick response time if something happened at one of the schools.

Bowling used information about infamous and historic school shooting references during his introduction of the class to participants.

According to research, the first recorded school shooting incident in the United States was in the 1700s, and prior to 1989 there were few incidents, that went beyond a personal vendetta, of school shootings, he said.

Since 1989, there have been more than 260 school shooting incidents, with 44 incidents since the 2010 school shooting at Newtown, Connecticut.

That increased by one during the training.

Before the first class break, KSP Trooper Jim Bowling made a chilling announcement, that there had been another school shooting, this one at about 8 a.m. (Pacific Standard Time), in Troutdale, Oregon, east of Portland, leaving one student dead as well as the shooter dead.

"Nobody goes to work thinking this would happen, at their school or their workplace," he said.

After the live shooter scenario that cleared the media room, participants were broken up into groups of about 10 to learn, then react to "Redman," who portrayed the shooter.

The officer in the Redman suit is heavily padded, to protect them from the participants.

In one scenario, participants heard gunfire and Redman appeared in the open doorway, using their own ingenuity, they flipped a table to bar his path and attacked Redman with a broom until Trooper Brent Sparks called them off.

Adrenaline got the best of some participants, who were sometimes injured, not by the police, but by their own fight-or-flight actions.

Mary Harrell, who had volunteered to help bar the door, ended up with a table on her foot.

"It makes you think," Harrell said. "I didn't know it was going to be live participation, but it was a good lesson."

For Lena Mayberry, who conducts student testing at all three Mason County facilities, the training was very good, she said.

"It was surprising and intense," she said.

Without revealing actual plans of action, participants learned what changes had come into play since the 1999 school shooting at Columbine in Colorado.

"Things changed after that day for KSP and police across Kentucky," Capt. Bowling said, describing the current "stop the shooter" plan of action, versus the wait them out mindset of before.

Students were killed at Columbine High School, with police planning what to do outside, he said.

Noticing surroundings is important, he said.

At Columbine, the killers had left a propane tank bomb in the cafeteria for about 45 minutes, without anyone questioning why it was there, he said.

Capt. Bowling stressed for schools to plan, including live shooter exit strategy that is simple.

"Run, hide and fight are the things you have to keep in mind," he said, stressing that getting children to safety is the priority.

Fight is a last course of action, he said.

"In 85 percent of shootings, the injured person survives," he said, showing a video of a surveillance camera where a police station was attacked by a man with a shotgun.

Though shot, all four officers survived, because they kept fighting, he said.

Items in the classrooms can be used to block entry, and fighting with an aggressor can give you time to save lives, he said.

"Do what you have to to live, and take care of our children," Capt. Bowling said. "Know your surroundings, and exits. Get your mind set right to plan what to do. You can do it and not wait your turn to be a target."

Any suspicious activity in or near schools should be reported to officials, or police, as soon as possible, Capt. Bowling said.


Information from: The Ledger Independent, http://www.maysville-online.com

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