Since it takes just a few minutes for active shooters to do a significant amount of damage, an effective first wave of emergency response is critical. In a school setting, teachers are often forced to provide that first line of protection before law enforcement arrives on the scene.
Teachers become first responders
According to FBI data, schools were the second-most popular context for active shooter events. College campuses and K-12 schools made up 29 percent of shooting locations. With so many of these harmful events occurring on academic grounds, schools are searching for ways to keep students and faculty safe. This includes training teachers and administrators as first responders.
It is not enough for teachers to know safety protocols for emergencies—they must be able to react quickly to dangerous and unpredictable situations. In Florida's Onslow County, teachers gathered for a full day of active-shooter response training, which included information on what to expect from law enforcement, how to detect dangerous individuals and what to do to treat a wounded student.
"We haven't had many situations like that here, but in today's society, you have to be prepared for anything," Jay Strope, the principal of a middle school, told The Daily News. "I've learned about looking for clues and signals you'll likely see in shooters. They're all different, but there are some common themes."
Training stresses prevention as well as reaction
Training teachers how to react during an active shooter scenario is important. It is more impactful, however, to educate them in how to detect possible warning signs prior to an incident and to take the preventative measures necessary to diffuse tensions.
"Gathering accurate information is always an additional challenge during these types of situations," Norman Bryson, the director of Onslow County Emergency Services, told The Daily News. "You've got multiple people reporting different things, and you've got to get to the bottom of things to figure out exactly what is going on and how to properly respond."
The training in Onslow County emphasized strengthening relationships with students as a way to more easily exchange information and spot red-flag behavior. Because teachers and administrators see potentially troubled individuals more frequently than others, they may be in a better position to sound the alarm if dangerous behavior surfaces. Fostering better relationships, however, is not as straightforward as training individuals how to pack a crisis response box or implement a color placard system.
"It takes someone speaking up and saying something to prevent something from happening," Strope told The Daily News. "You have to build relationships with the kids so they'll tell us about these things. They'll hear it before we will."
Educators face a new world of concerns
Stepping up in the event an attack on a school may not have been in the original job description, but it is quickly becoming a factor that educators must consider. To learn about first response and practice reacting to a shooter, time is needed for inservice that goes beyond a teacher's professional training. In Onslow County, the six-hour session was conducted on a day off for students, requiring an additional commitment on behalf of the educators.
Conducting special training exercises to simulate active shooter scenarios helps improve emergency response, but many teachers and school administrators remain wary about being called to act in crisis situations.
"I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl," Pamela Buechner, a high school teacher in Central Ohio, told a local news outlet. "This side of it was something I never thought about. It's something I don't think a lot of us were prepared to do when we wanted to go into teaching."
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