Law enforcement covered for emergency medical services workers and firefighters sent to rescue victims as they searched the halls of Lakeside Elementary Thursday morning during an active shooter response training event at the school.
In the event this most nightmarish of scenarios were to occur, USD 250 Pittsburg is working to equip not only its teachers and administrators, but also area emergency responders as it implements a new type of response.
ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate, is an alternative to locking doors, turning out lights and remaining huddled in a corner if an intruder breeches a room, which goes against fight or flight natural instinct.
The system teaches the importance of alerts that are clear, locking down as effectively as possible, informing those in a building of the shooter's location in real-time so that people in other parts of the building can evacuate and then countering and evading in the event of a lockdown breech.
During the training, which was facilitated by Chris Moore of the Pittsburg Police Department and Anthony Pichler of the Crawford County Sheriff's Department, groups first huddled and waited for the shooter to get a sense of how victims feel when operating under the traditional strategy of remaining huddled.
"Six kids are dead because we can't do anything but shut the room and turn off the lights," Moore said following the first exercise (which utilized members of the Pittsburg Fire Department as students for the scenario).
During a second run the "students" were given the ability to throw rubber golf balls at the shooter and evacuate the room.
In the second event firefighters reported whether they were hit by the pellets used in the exercise and some reported injuries in the arm or leg, but the majority would not have been fatal.
"You all died the first time," Moore told firefighters. "You all died, because we didn't give you anything to do."
He continued by noting when firefighters threw objects at the shooter, (who was not using a real pistol, which would also have recoil and need to be re-centered between shots) that the shots were much less accurate.
This is one of the reasons USD 250 is making the switch to the somewhat more controversial response method.
"Traditional responses, it was mostly we hunker down and try to hide," said Destry Brown, USD 250 superintendent. "ALICE it's about how to try to get out of the building safely. The research in the school shootings that have occurred is that a lot of the students and staff have been shot because they're hiding."
Brown said ALICE teaches more instinctive evasive responses that can give anyone involved a better chance at staying alive.
"We believe that ALICE is a better way of saving life," Brown said.
One concern is the age-appropriateness of the responses, and throughout the training it was noted that elementary students would not be trained to confront a shooter directly, but could create distractions through throwing classroom objects, helping the class evade and evacuate.
"The four people who went hands-on with him, we're not going to teach elementary school kids that," Moore said.
"High school will be taught things that will be much different than we teach elementary kids," added Brown. "We're just preparing for worst-case scenarios."
Brown said although the hope is that the training never is utilized it is similar to practicing fire drills, tornado drills or other plans for how to handle frightening and dangerous situations.
"If people never practice even what might have happened, if it actually does happen there's nothing to fall back on," he said.
The transition in preparation and response began through conversation with local law enforcement last summer about the potential for an official change, and responders also expressed a desire to get to know the school buildings better.
The joint training, which was attended by several teachers and administrators despite being optional, accomplished that and more as those attending drilled over piece after piece of the response and rescue effort.
Law enforcement officers instructed fire and EMS personnel to make sure they have officers covering them if they are ever called to the scene of a shooting.
"Firemen are the heroes, so let us take the bullet for you," Pichler said.
"Until we do a complete search of the building and know for absolutely certain you are safe," instructed Pichler. "Do not even think about entering this building without law enforcement."
"This training also gives staff the opportunity to know how the emergency responders are going to respond," Brown said.
Lakeside was selected to host the exercise because of its many wings and multiple floors, and Principal Courtney McCartney was actively involved in the training.
She said in the first drill she played the role of a student and felt the sense of tension while waiting and listening as a gunman executes peers one by one.
"I think we just all felt as a teacher you don't just want to take cover and hide," she said adding that the training is more instinctive. "I think this is just a huge empowerment for teachers and staff."
She said students already practice intruder drills and last school year did a reunification drill - which would be used in a shooter situation, a gas leak or any other scenario that would require moving students offsite.
McCartney said students will be introduced to ALCIE slowly and in the same way they would a tornado drill or fire drill.
"Slowly we'll just talk to them about it," she said. "We already practice intruder drills. It's just going to come back to your instincts."