Parents received a preview of some weighty training slated for presentation to their children, students at Bainbridge and Eagle Harbor high schools, Tuesday night during an active shooter response “best practices” talk in the BHS Commons.
Before a crowd of about 35 people, Assistant Chief Luke Carpenter of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department and police department representative Sgt. Trevor Ziemba discussed and shared an abbreviated version of the training they would be giving to island students in grades 9-12 later in the week: “What to Do in Lockdown & Active Shooter Situations: Emergency Responders Share Best Practices.”
Bainbridge Island has seen two school lockdowns in the past two years. Both were ultimately revealed to have been false alarms, the result of intentional fake reports.
Ziemba explained to parents the procedure for calling and enacting a school lockdown, using the recent hoax as an example to show that such a development does not necessarily mean there definitely is a shooter on campus.
It is, he said, first and foremost a protective measure.
“When we go into a lockdown we believe there is a threat that has occurred in the school, or could occur,” Ziemba said. “In the last lockdown that we had, because of the hoax that was being presented to us in law enforcement, we thought there was a potential for multiple schools to have an issue. We didn’t know.”
In light of that most recent event, which just occurred in November, some may view the timing of this training as reactionary. But BHS Principal Kristen Haizlip said that it had actually been in the works for some time prior to last month’s lockdown.
“This was all happening in October, before the lockdown happened,” she said.
It was the school’s safety council, made up of student, faculty and parent representatives, that first broached the subject of more in-depth shooter response preparation.
‘Run, Hide, Fight’
The student training given Thursday, which espouses the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “Run, Hide, Fight” strategy, is applicable to both school and public settings, the presenters said, and is intended to prepare students for possible worst-case-scenarios, not to raise fear or anxiety.
“Our goal is to empower the kids to make life-saving decisions,” Carpenter told parents. “If you watch the news, if you read about the active shooter events, they happen in a matter of minutes, a matter of seconds. We met with some of the students here and talked with them and asked them, ‘Do you know what to do?’ And the response has been somewhat negative. They don’t know what to do.
“Our goal for [the student presentation] is to empower them, give them the tools they need to make these rapid, and probably life-saving decisions.”
Like regular fire and earthquake drills, the presenters said, schools are now also required to perform lockdown drills, and these are done on a frequent basis.
To supplement the drills, however, the Bainbridge Island School District has partnered with the police and fire departments to provide more comprehensive training for high school students.
The topics covered included what to do during a lockdown, how to respond to active shooter situations, typical motivations of the shooters, and basic first aid techniques that included how to stop bleeding and how to tie a tourniquet.
The genesis of the idea to seek more advanced training for the students, the principal said, came from conversations she has had with many seniors in the wake of faculty instruction.
“I had been trained by Trevor and Luke, and our staff was getting trained, they came in and trained our staff at a staff meeting, and after that I was reflecting on our students,” she said.
“They’re 18, some of them. They’re adults. And we are telling them what to do and they’re waiting for our direction, but if you’re out in public and there’s an active shooter and you’re that age, you would need to respond on your own.”
Haizlip said she was shocked to hear some students believed they should get themselves back inside the school if they should happen to be outside, on the athletic field, or down the street for lunch, should a lockdown occur.
“We have a very compliant student body,” she said. “We wanted to give them some tools to not just be captive or passive in a situation. Research is showing you can take other strategies than just hide and wait.”
In talking with senior students, Haizlip said, she learned just how unprepared some Spartans were for the worst.
“This one senior … he was like, ‘We need to inform the students! I’m a senior in high school and I literally did not know that, that I could run away in an active shooter [situation].’”
A similar, adjusted session will be offered to middle school students in January, Haizlip said, as well as a corresponding parents’ preview presentation at that time, which will be open to parents of students of any age.
Carpenter said he was pleased with the turnout and obvious interest on the part of island parents at Tuesday’s presentation.
“It’s nice to see these folks come out,” he said.
“They’re interested. They’re concerned. We had some great dialogue, some great conversations. This is what I hope is the beginning of more.”
Parents were notified that the training was to be given in advance, with a caveat that alternative arrangements could be made if someone believed, “your student will experience undue stress or anxiety by attending a 30-minute informational presentation on ‘Run, Hide, Fight.’”
The obviously stressful nature of the subject matter, Carpenter said, made the parents’ preview all the more important.
“We felt it was important for this subject that we have a chance to talk with the parents ahead of time,” Carpenter said.
Concerns raised by parents during the post-presentation Q&A session included the preference of emergency responders regarding the presence of parents on/near campus during a lockdown; the tone and force of the voice which announces the start of a lockdown on the school’s PA system; the fear among some students that their classmates did not take such incidents seriously enough; the method of releasing and distributing timely, accurate information during a lockdown; and campus surveillance.
One woman in the audience raised concerns regarding the district’s adoption of the “Run, Hide, Fight” strategy at all, citing independent research which claimed it was not the best response. Those of a differing school of thought often claim such responses as being advised in the Homeland Security program are at, best, damage control, saying if they should become necessary than a shooter is already inside the school and tragedy unavoidable.
The proper response
Most experts of that opinion argue instead for a more robust, permanent on-campus security force and additional defenses: metal detectors and tighter control of all entrances and exits (a particular challenge on Bainbridge, where the high school campus is an open, multi-building design).
While no definite consensus exists among emergency responders and security professionals as to the ideal form of training with which to prepare students for a potential active shooter scenario — such situations being inevitably fluid and extremely specific, never exactly alike — Carpenter said alternative training programs and the potential adoption of additional campus security measures were separate issues, which the ultimate use of, or not, would neither enhance nor detract from the training currently being given island students.
“Our goal in life is to save lives in the here and now,” Carpenter said. “You hear the sound of gunfire, the metal detector didn’t work. In the role that Trevor and I play, anyway, that is a totally separate conversation. We’re talking about life-saving measures.”