Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate

School shooting scenarios discussed at local seminar

If authorities have to descend upon a school with guns drawn in a full-fledged response to a shooting scenario, teachers and students should expect to be treated like suspects - at least briefly.

Local law enforcement agencies and school administrators packed into the Crescent City Fire Hall on Wednesday to assess their preparedness for a school-related shooting.

If a shooter were to open fire at an area school, "everybody with a gun is going to be heading into that direction," said Sgt. Gene McManus, leader of the Del Norte Sheriff's Office SWAT team.

"Teachers need to expect to be told to get down," said McManus, adding that they should also be ready to share information.

SWAT team member Tim Wiley added that under such circumstances, anyone who sees officers coming toward them should automatically show his or her hands.

The first responders will be officers there to identify and neutralize any threats, so everyone will be approached as a suspect. The protocol for law enforcement has changed since the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado, where officers staged a command center before entering the school, leaving the attackers more time to kill students and faculty members.

"Time is of the essence," said Sheriff Dean Wilson. "We have to locate (the shooter) as quickly and efficiently as possible."

Teachers should ensure they are aware of their school's lockdown policy. Many of the principals in attendance stated they have recently conducted lockdown drills at their schools.

If a shooting were to take place inside a school while some teachers and students were outside, then teachers should use their discretion as to whether to lead the children away from the school, but if there is a safe path it is highly encouraged, authorities said.

Older students could be encouraged to evacuate the school grounds on their own if there is a safe path, while younger students should be guided, authorities said.

While there isn't a definite profile of who has the propensity to be a school shooter, there are indicators that teachers, students and authorities should pay attention to, said Sgt. Joe Basham, a California Emergency Management Agency representative leading the seminar.

"Historically, they're male," said Basham, adding that they are usually going through stress. "The way they deal with this pressure is that they are going to come to their school and start killing people."

Prior to most school shootings, other students knew that they might occur, but failed to notify teachers or adults, he said.

There have been other instances where a school district had information about a student who was making threats and disciplined him, but did not notify authorities, said Sgt. Mike Haney, a Cal EMA representative co-leading the seminar.

"If he's a problem in school," said Haney, "he's likely a problem in the street."

Of all school shooters nationwide, 93 percent engaged in some behavior prior to the attack that caused others to be concerned, and almost all of the attackers were current students, authorities said.

The core of Wednesday's seminar was based upon communication, whether it be sharing information of potential threats or making sure all agencies are on the same page regarding responding to an attack on a school.

Overall, there seemed to be a strong foundation of communication and understanding laid prior to the seminar, but it helped both law enforcement and administrators identify some gaps, participants said.

Law officers and school administrators said they are willing to work together to coordinate their plans and fine-tune details.

Once that happens, there will be meetings for parents to discuss their concerns and questions about school safety, said Del Norte County emergency services manager Cindy Henderson.

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