By RACHAEL NARSH
The topic of school safety isn’t just limited to educational forums or news broadcasts following a recent incident in Rockwood. It’s a topic that has spurred districtwide discussions.
On Sept. 4, a false intruder alert triggered a lockdown at Eureka High. While many students and teachers were able to follow protocol and seek shelter in classrooms, others in flex blocks evacuated the premises. Some students got into cars or ran to nearby neighborhoods.
While it was later determined that the false alarm was caused by a technological malfunction, extra counselors were still brought on school grounds.
On Nov. 6, the Rockwood School District [RSD] community was invited to a school safety update presentation held at the Administrative Annex in Eureka.
The reason for the presentation was to update citizens on how Rockwood is preparing its schools to handle intruders.
Superintendent Dr. Mark Miles opened the presentation with a report on the process revisions taking place across the district to ensure consistency throughout all Rockwood schools. Those procedures include 4E Training, “intruder alert” buttons in classrooms that can send alerts across several buildings at the same time, a student check-in mechanism and “all clear” communication.
Miles explained that at the beginning of each school year, all schools “will update and emphasize 4E options-based training and make sure students know locations of their off-campus rally points.” The “E”s stand for educate, evade, escape and engage. Essentially, teachers and staff members are trained how to lock down, barricade and evacuate students.
During student orientations each fall, intruder alerts will be activated to familiarize everyone with how they sound. Intercom speakers will be checked annually to ensure that intruder alerts can be heard inside and outside buildings. Communications procedures to parents also have been improved, district officials said.
Rockwood communications officials will send out notifications via text and email upon confirming the legitimacy of the intruder alert with the local authorities. Further updates will be reported on the district website.
Mike Wiegand, Eureka police chief, also spoke at the meeting about the importance of community partnerships. Over the last seven years, Eureka police have conducted nine community response training sessions, reaching more than 400 teachers and staff. Wiegand explained some of the specific skills that have been taught, like how to stop bleeding with a tourniquet.
Wiegand also mentioned the recent “false alarm” that led to realizing the importance of Eureka Police having keys to school buildings, which they now have.
Terry Harris, executive director of student services, discussed the district’s safety training, the RSD tip line and the importance of schools having a safety plan.
“We have never had a community safety forum, and maybe it’s something we should do on an annual basis,” he said. He explained that there are 32 sites in the district and that they are all required to update their safety plans on an annual basis.
The majority of the presentation was given by Lt. Brian Schellman from Tier One Tactical and the St. Louis Police Department. He provided an overview of the 4E Options-Based Training that his organization provides to schools throughout the St. Louis area.
Schellman said Tier One has conducted more than 100 training programs throughout the Midwest and that schools are not the only groups using the training. He said hundreds of businesses have also participated.
Schellman also has a vested interest in the safety of St. Louis area schools – which his young daughters attend.
“When I send them to school, I wonder what their school is doing to keep my kids safe,” he said.
The Four “E”s of safety
The first “E” stands for Education. Tier One educates through their presentations, Schellman said. Practice is also an important part of education because it reinforces skills and can uncover holes in a safety plan. Schellman stressed the importance of paying attention and letting others know if something seems suspicious.
An active shooter incident occurs when one or more people are trying to actively kill people in a populated area. Though guns seem to be the weapon of choice in the U.S., Schellman explained that weapons also can include knives, explosives and even vehicles.
Since 2000, a three-minute response time is the objective for law enforcement to arrive at an active shooter situation. Statistics show that every 12 to 15 seconds someone is killed in an active shooter situation. The longer it lasts, the more lives are lost. A first responder’s first priority is to eliminate the threat, then find the victims.
According to Schellman, there are three natural responses to an emergency situation: fight, flight or freeze. In moments of high stress, people often can’t recall basic information, like their classroom number, or they become unable to process what is happening around them.
Universal labeling is critical for first responders. They don’t know how to get to the cafeteria or room 138. So exterior windows, doors and interior doors all need to be labeled so they can find the intruder quickly.
The next “E” is for Evade. Lock doors and turn off lights. Blockade and obstruct the doorways, as well as the active shooter’s view, then call 911.
“First responders learned a lot from Nikolas Cruz,” Schellman said, referencing the Parkland, Florida, school shooter. “Nikolas wanted to be famous. He wanted the highest body count possible.”
Schellman described Cruz as very cooperative with the police and one of the few shooters that wasn’t killed or didn’t kill himself. He shared much of his plan, including his plan to get a master key. He knew the response time and checked door handles and windows so he wouldn’t waste his three minutes.
Schellman gave examples of barricading doors with chairs, two-by-fours, and even a device found on Amazon called a Safety Sleeve.
The third “E” is for Escape. Schellman explained that 98% of active shooter incidents are carried out by a single attacker. He mentioned the Columbine shooting in 1999 and most recently the incident in Jonesboro, Arkansas, that fell into the 2% that had multiple shooters.
Schellman stressed the importance of a rally point, which is a place where students and staff can meet if they are able to escape the situation. Tier One regularly conducts assessments on these rally points and encourages schools to share these with first responders.
The last “E” is for Engage. In the event that it is impossible to evade or escape, a victim needs to disrupt and distract the shooter by any means possible, such as noise, movement, or an improvised weapon.
“Thrown objects are a good distraction but you have to follow up,” he said, meaning that the victim would distract, then either escape or overpower.
If you are able to disarm a shooter, what you do with the weapon is very important. If you try to use it against the shooter, a first responder could misinterpret the situation. Victims should get rid of the weapon as quickly – and safely – as possible.