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Active-shooter drill at Deer Lakes High 'empowers' educators

Brian C. Rittmeyer
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Eric Felack | Trib Total Media
Participants wearing safety gear barricade themselves inside a darkened classroom at Deer Lakes High School during active shooter training on Thursday, July 23, 2015.
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Eric Felack | Trib Total Media
John Bruner, the Keystone Oaks School District public safety coordinator, rushes through a classroom after simulating a school shooter who just shot victims hiding in Deer Lakes High School on Thursday, July 23, 2015.

It was just a drill, but the results were horrifying.

In the first of several scenarios capping off a training program Thursday afternoon at Deer Lakes High School, participants simply “locked down” in a classroom in response to an intruder with a gun. They were sitting in a corner when an instructor acting as the gunman burst in.

The casualty rate was 100 percent.

But on a second go, they knew more about where the intruder was in the building, and that they had time to barricade the door with a table and chairs and use an electric cord to pull it shut.

That time, only two were hit by plastic pellets from an Airsoft gun and the wounds, if real, would not have been life-threatening.

Increasing survivability in the face of an active shooter by being proactive instead of passive was the objective of the two-day “ALICE” training held Wednesday and Thursday at the West Deer school.

The ALICE Training Institute is based in Medina, Ohio, and started in 2001. Its name is short for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate — ways to thwart a shooter.

While the training was in a school, its methods can be used in many settings, including hospitals, churches and businesses.

People need to know what to do in such situations “because police officers aren't getting there in time,” said Aaron Vanatta, a trainer with the ALICE Training Institute.

“These things are happening everywhere,” he said.

Police officers, educators and a banker were among the 10 people who took the instructor training course at Deer Lakes High School. After classroom instruction Wednesday and Thursday morning, they ran through various scenarios Thursday afternoon.

Deer Lakes security administrator Marissa Bailey took the training in January at Keystone Oaks School District. Deer Lakes's faculty will be trained in August and the new procedures will be in use in the new school year.

The program “taught me better survival is to fight back instead of hunkering down and playing hide and seek with an intruder,” she said.

Participants learned to use noise, movement and whatever they have around them — chairs, books, computers, anything they can throw — to disrupt a shooter.

With just locking down, “we were basically sitting ducks,” Bailey said. “This gives us options.”

“Inform” is a key element in the program. Rather than a generic warning to lockdown, giving specific information about a shooter's location in a building helps occupants know how best to respond, if that means barricading a room or trying to evacuate.

“You've got to empower yourself to protect yourself,” said Michael DelCimmuto, director of campus safety and security for the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.

Stefanie Hinton is a health and physical education teacher from Bedford Area High School, where they teach the program's concepts to all students. She traveled from Bedford County for a refresher.

“We can take control of the situation and keep ourselves safe,” she said.

The training ended with a bang. One of the trainers fired blanks from a gun at various distances inside the building so they know what it would sound like — which was not necessarily like a gun.

Janetta Mixter had never heard a gunshot before. Once it reached her, she said it smelled like a firecracker.

Mixter, manager of administrative services at Federal Home Loan Bank in Pittsburgh, found the training useful.

“Now, I kind of know what to do,” she said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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