PENNFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - Teachers and administrators in one West Michigan county are going through active shooter training, being taught to protect themselves and to think about impossible situations before they happen.
Target 8 got unprecedented access from the Calhoun County Sheriff's Department to a school staff training session at Pennfield High School in Pennfield Township.
The emotional video shot during that session is not intended to scare anyone. Rather, it is meant to make people aware of what some West Michigan teachers and administrators are doing to prepare for a worst case scenario.
Part of the training takes a look at past school tragedies, and what could have been done differently.
One of those tragedies the training takes a look at is the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. 12 students and 1 teacher were killed on April 20, 1999 before the two teen gunmen turned their weapons on themselves.
The grainy surveillance video of the Columbine cafeteria is likely trapped somewhere in the memories of everyone who was paying attention more than a decade ago. The pictures show the two teen gunmen hunting their classmates in the cafeteria as students try to hide under tables.
911 calls from the tragic day are all over the Internet. They show just how unprepared everyone was for someone with a loaded weapon to come into a school and hunt students.
"Everyone stay on the floor! On the floor! Under the tables!" one panicked teacher said to a 911 operator.
"Try and keep as many people down as [you] can," the dispatcher told the teacher on the call.
Down on the ground, under desks and under tables is the exact right thing to do for many emergencies, but more than 10 years post Columbine, experts realize it's the exact wrong thing to do if there is someone hunting in a school.
That's where the active shooter training comes into play. It teaches teachers how to protect themselves and think about the unthinkable before it happens.
Photos: Active school shooter training
A combined 18 teachers and administrators went through three training scenarios at Pennfield High School. The sessions were run by two Calhoun County sheriff's deputies who had been trained by a private Missouri-based company called Strategos International.
The Strategos International program trained 12 officers from different agencies in Calhoun County. It is a pilot program for that private company to train officers who then train others, rather than have all trainees go through the Strategos Program. The cost of the program to train the officers was paid for by a grant, according to an officer at the Battle Creek Police Department.
At the Pennfield High School session this summer, Detective Steve Hinkley surprised those there by using a airsoft pistol to shoot a participant with no advance notice.
"Peg, will you come here for a minute?" Hinkley called a teacher while all participants were standing around waiting for the drill to begin. "Hey! You disciplined my student, my son at school! Yeah!" He said while shooting the fake weapon at Peg. The fake attack sent all other participants running into classrooms to hide -- just like those at Columbine did.
That first drill exposed what can go wrong.
When all the participants only turned off classroom lights, closed the door and hid, Hinkley was able to pick off people one by one. After two minutes, Hinkley was able to "kill" 11 of the 18 participants.
The drill demonstrated how easily and how quickly an attacker can kill if everyone in the school merely runs and hides. Running, shutting lights off, hiding and locking classroom doors are only part of the way to survive a school shooting.
The drills also brought up other impossible decisions that teachers may have to make in a crisis situation.
One of the questions posed was what to do if a teacher knows there's an active shooter in the school and a school alarm goes off. Teachers were forced to think if an alarm should make them send students running into a hallway to potentially become targets for a shooter, or if it would be better to ignore an alarm if the teacher knows a gunman is in the building.
Another heartbreaking scenario posed to teachers was what to do if the teacher and a full class of students are safe inside a classroom behind a locked door and a single kid comes knocking on the door trying to get in. Teachers had to decide if they should open the door to save that one kid, or if that would potentially put more lives in more danger.
Det. Hinkley and Deputy Matt Madsen, the two Calhoun County Sheriff's deputies who were running the training, didn't tell teachers what the right answers were. They just told participants to think about what they would do.
"I'm sorry that we have to talk about this," Hinkley told those teachers at the training session. "But we have to remember this is not our fault. This is not my fault. These are some gentlemen who killed a lot of people in schools. It's their fault. That's why we have to talk about this."
In the next scenarios, the two deputies showed the teachers how to turn the tables on an attacker and go on the offensive.
The goal of the scenarios wasn't to defeat or disarm the intruder, but rather to survive for the up to 10 minutes it could take for emergency responders to get to the scene.
"I guarantee that we will be here for you and we will do everything we can to protect you, but I'm telling you right now, I'm sorry to say we are not the first responders. You are," said Hinkley.
And as such, the first responders of necessity, need to arm themselves with weapons of opportunity.
Hinkley opened up session for input from the participants.
"Inside this classroom, anybody have any ideas what you would use for a weapon? Sir, what would you use?" Hinkley said, pointing to one teacher. One recommended a stapler, another a stool or a fire extinguisher.
Stools and desks, Hinkley and Madsen showed the teachers, can become door locks and obstacles. A stapler can become a missile and scissors could be a knife. Anything and everything is fair game when a potential killer is in school, and each makeshift weapon could buy valuable seconds.
"It's the new tactical classroom," Hinkley told his students. "Isn't that crazy? We gotta use the word tactical in a school now?"
Thinking tactically, using wiffle balls in place of classroom projectiles in the training session, meant more lives were saved in subsequent training sessions.
The kill rate went from 11 of 18 dead to one wounded.
All three sessions lasted two minutes each. Several teachers commented that the first scenario seemed like it took forever, and the subsequent ones seemed to go by much more quickly.
"In the first scenario you were waiting to die, and on the last one [you were] refusing to die," Madsen explained.
But all the training in the world would be meaningless , if a teacher couldn't bring him or herself to attack someone in an emergency, so Target 8 asked 28-year special education veteran Shelley O'Dowd if she thought she could really defend her classroom. Target 8 wanted to know if the teacher could potentially stab someone with a pair of scissors if it was necessary.
"Definitely, if I saw. Absolutely," O'Dowd replied without taking a beat. "I just think it becomes an automatic if you're protecting people, and you have, you know, a need. I think yes, I could for sure."
She acknowledged that she never thought she would have to do something like this back when she became a teacher, and that most of the other teachers at the session likely didn't either.
"Unfortunately, the way the world is going right now there's a lot of violence and I think you just have to be prepared," O'Dowd said. "It's good to prepare. What I think today was good for is now you have the mindset to plan ahead. Now I have all kinds of plans for my classroom."
Target 8 also asked administrators to compare this training to other districts who don't do something similar.
Principal Barry Duckham told Target 8 he absolutely thinks his school is safer as a result.
"Most definitely," said Duckham. "If you don't have a comfort level in how you're going to act in a certain situations, you're just asking for bad things to happen."
Target 8 contacted the Michigan Education Association to get that union's take on training sessions like the one at Pennfield High School. Thomas Morgan, and MEA spokesperson, said that they do support active shooter training for teachers on a local level.
Morgan went on to say that the MEA does not support efforts to arm teachers, nor does the union believe that teachers should become permanent security guards.
"We don't want them to be in a position where they have to play police officers," Morgan said.
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