It’s a reflection of the times we live in: School districts across the U.S. now regularly train for the possibility of an active shooter situation. Denver Public Schools was the latest, holding a full-scale active shooter exercise recently at Vista Academy, a high school in the northeast part of the city. CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.
“Our goal is to give our emergency responders a taste as well as experience in what it would be like in an actual school shooting,” said Michael Eaton, D.P.S. Safety Chief, moments before the drill began. “We are required to do active shooter training eight hours per year,” said Melissa Craven, D.P.S. Emergency Management Commander. “This is the first time Denver Public Schools has hosted an event like this.”
In this scenario, a masked gunman carrying several weapons and wearing an ammunition belt entered the school. Within moments, he started shooting.
“You’re going to hear actors screaming,” Eaton cautioned. Some volunteers wore makeup that made it appear they’d been seriously wounded. “You’re going to hear a bunch of chaos to test the emergency responders and make it as realistic as possible,” he added.
An emergency duress button was pressed, putting the school on lockdown. 911 was called. It took several minutes for officers to arrive.
“We need to elevate the level of response of our emergency responders,” Eaton said. “We want to make sure they’re coming into a situation where not only does it make their heart race a little bit more, but also challenges them to remain calm and think critically in a very chaotic and scary situation.”
Both the suspect and officers fired fake bullets or “simunitions.” By reviewing past shootings and incorporating new technology and methods like numbering all of their doors, schools have developed a more sophisticated approach to preparing for a possible future attack.
“We’re not waiting for multiple officers to get on scene,” Eaton said. “We’re not waiting for incident command. If there’s active killing going on, you go in there and engage the threat.”
He said communication between responding agencies and with parents is critical during these types of situations.
“So that we don’t have a potential accidental shooting and we don’t have mass chaos,” he said.
Brad Wilson, who played one of the victims, said the drill was eye-opening.
“You got to see how this might go down. There’s a lot of things that are unexpected,” Wilson said. “The gunfire just starts. It’s shocking a little bit.”
The suspect in this exercise was shot and killed. Everyone in the school was accounted for. A report will determine if Denver Public Schools needs to adjust its active shooter response plans.
“It went very well,” Craven said. “Everyone was on mark… We were able to utilize all of our technology. We were able to make sure our card readers worked, that our keys worked.”
Eaton said the goal is to test their preparedness and not let disaster be the teacher.
“We want to make sure we test that now, identify those gaps so that we are spot on if a tragedy like that were to occur in a school,” Eaton said.