The Frog, the Terrorist & the Parents

A bit more bactentkground 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…

 

The Frog and the Terrorist

frogWay back when, after 9/11, our city’s Emergency Manager received a grant from Homeland Security to conduct one of the first terrorist attack simulations at a high school and, for the first time, test Unified Command with police, fire and education. 

We had previously conducted an active shooter simulation with law enforcement. That had been a Columbine type sim, with kids, teachers, administrators, classified staff and SWAT teams.  We had learned an unbelievable amount that led to new trainings for both schools and law enforcement. So we moved ahead with this exercise in order to better inform our work in keeping students, staff and schools safe.

I should note that a simulation is not completely scripted; it’s a lot of pushing dominoes and then evaluating what happens.  What could possibly go wrong, especially when including 2,000 teenagers, a hundred or so teachers, and a couple hundred parents?

Nine months of planning and preparation — a lot like giving birth — and we were almost ready. 

We had met with students, teachers and parents, given them their roles and responsibilities, as well as the opportunity to opt out of the simulation. The same thing happened with elementary and middle schools in the surrounding neighborhood. Very few opted out, which made the event much more realistic. Of course, we had mental health counselors available during and after the event, although they were not needed.

On the school side, we were adamantly opposed a script having a terrorist coming onto a campus; that would give too many idiots too many ideas. So we settled on a substitute teacher, which was a safe choice as subs always get blamed for everything anyway.  The sub was assigned to a science class and then lost it because the lesson plan called for dissecting frogs.

I’d probably lose it too, even though I’m not particularly fond of frogs, but then I don’t carry a gun so my response would have been in the neighborhood of getting queasy and turning green.

Our sub was scripted to have belonged to an organization opposed to dissecting frogs which qualified as a terrorist organization, go figure, so we were covered under the grant requirements.  The sub was actually a former SWAT officer with a disarming smile which was helped because he was going to be “killing” three different teachers before shooting a young female drama student who tried to escape.  And yes, he used very loud blanks to make it all the more realistic.

One of the educational objectives was to see if our students could successfully take charge of the classrooms without an adult after the shooter moved on (the “dead” teachers being comfortably positioned on the floor and trying hard not to nap).  The kids did exceptionally well.

Our young drama student, ecstatic over her lead role, was going to be “killed” in front of audience of city council members, county supervisors, numerous school superintendents, police chiefs and other invited VIP guests who then got to watch the sim unfold while being very aware of our young student-actress sprawled out on the ground twenty feet in front of them.

Personally, I think it’s very helpful to unnerve leaders every once in a while and we did accomplish that.  They were all pale and visibly shaken by the time the exercise was completed.

Our primary objective, however, was testing Unified Command, wherein the people in charge from the participating systems — in this case, police, fire, education — worked together to problem solve issues with the lead agency in charge of rendering decisions. While most citizens would assume that, oh, police, fire, public health, mental health and schools all happily work together, it is not often the case so this sim would be very interesting in testing the newly federally mandated “unified” approach.

First, however, we had to bring all the participating police responders, fire/rescue teams and school administrators together to go over the scope of the sim, without giving away the details of what would get thrown their way.

As we were planning the prep meeting, it occurred to the fire and police commanders that if either one of them, or their chiefs, told the group to not hi-jack the script, the other department would never listen. Fire obeys fire; police obeys police. Evidently, though, they were all still terrified of English teachers because I was handed the task of reinforcing that they all stay on script.

That completed, we were ready to go.

To be continued…