A bit more background before launching into the three-ring terrorist simulation at a high school with a couple thousand kids…
Our first simulation, a Columbine-type sim, was conducted on a Saturday morning with 400 kids, teachers, administrators, classified staff and law enforcement. Our learning curve was steep. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.
Out of that learning experience grew both law enforcement training and school training. We each developed our own training, but agreed to view the other’s and offer a critique. I have to say, sitting in the back of a large room of officers, listening to the lecture, was a pretty amazing experience. Then, the officers went to the actual practice; I wanted to join in.
You’ll shoot yourself. Or us. No.
It’s a paint gun.
Alas, they knew me too well; the paint gun was off limits, but it was exciting to note that our two trainings were completely integrated.
The entire SWAT group showed up at one elementary/middle district to listen to my training. They stood the entire hour in the back, in uniform with weapons, arms folded across chests, unsmiling. At the conclusion, they told me it was great and they could now take 2,000 variables (aka students and teachers) out of their equation, which made catching any bad guy so much easier. uh huh.
Every school in the area had conducted numerous “Code Red” Lockdown drills following the training and so, we felt very comfortable taking on this next simulation.
We also thought that it would also be beneficial to bring in 200 or so parents at a Reunion Center, seeing as that had never really been tested and, in actual events, pretty chaotic. We recruited 200 volunteer parents as well as 200 student volunteers to be evacuated and put parent and child together at a meet and greet a couple of weeks prior to the simulation. I even recruited a few retired teachers, including Sisters Dianne and Mimi. It was amazing how quickly the new parents and their new kids bonded.
The plan called for the opening shots by our terrorist/substitute teacher and the response by school and law enforcement, including students running to a neighboring school site. Fire was on standby because of the injuries. Safety Officers/evaluators were in every classroom and with every police/fire team, noting minute by minute what was happening and able to stop or pause the action if necessary. The local media had also set up shop and were using the event to practice with the three Public Information Officers from the different systems.
Once the terrorist was caught and the area secured, fire stepped forward with their Triage, Treat, Transport area for the injured while law enforcement began the evacuation of our 200 student volunteers and their teachers.
The evacuated students were then bused to the District Office, now a Reunion Center, while injured students were also taken to the District Office and into the large Board of Trustees Room, where our partnering hospitals had set up a mock emergency room. Every kid had a completed and signed permission slip, according to state law, and their real parents knew exactly what was going to happen.
It was a three ring circus, including a very, very large tent outside in the District Office parking lot to hold hundreds of police, fire, students, educators, parents, VIPs, etc. following the event. We had prepared bagged lunches, speeches and hopefully high five’s all around.
Things began that morning according to plan. It all was going smoothly.
What could possibly go wrong?
At the Reunion Center, the parent were arriving, having been bused in, a busload at a time to simulate what would probably happen in an actual event. As they started to gather, they were in role, anxious and waiting, talking quietly among themselves. Then a couple of parents — it might well have begun with Mimi — grew louder, demanding information about their child.
It all became very, very loud and very, very realistic very, very quickly.
I’ll only say that afterwards the police who were trying to maintain control at the Reunion Center said facing armed terrorists were far easier than facing parents and if anything really happened in the future, we were on our own with parents.
There was only one glitch, and it was minor in the grand scope of things. Law enforcement teams were evacuating classrooms as planned until one group ran into an intersection of hallways. The team was supposed to turn right and continue with the evacuation. Instead they turned left and opened the first classroom door.
It was a classroom with a very novice first year teacher and very high need Special Ed students. The kids knew exactly what to do; hands on their heads and walked out, as directed, in a straight line. No talking; no fooling around. They were great. Their teacher, too terrified to say ah, wrong classroom to a team of well-armed officers, followed along as well. They all marched right onto the bus and made the trip to the Reunion Center.
Without permission slips, violating a little item called state law.
Fortunately, the administrator at the Reunion Center immediately recognized what had happened. The real parents were called as the kids excitedly lined up for lunch and the scheduled events in the Three Ring Tent. Pretend parents stepped in to sit with them, and we were back on track again for the closing ceremonies.
I’ll share some observations the next time around…