FLINT TWP. — When a crazed gunman shot his way into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut last December — killing 26 innocent people including 20 6- and 7-year-olds — it shattered beliefs that little children are safe from such senseless violence.
Last week, the entire staff from all four of Carman- Ainsworth’s elementary school buildings spent part of a professional development day learning what to do if ever faced with such an unthinkable act.
For the first time, Active Shooter Training was offered at C-A’s elementary school level but the staff regularly participates in mandatory intruder drills right along with tornado and fire drills, said Dave Swierpel, Director of Professional Learning and Community Services.
Everyone including teachers, secretaries and custodians were involved in the active shooter training. Students were out of school that day.
Active shooter training has been ongoing for about four years at various school districts and has previously taken place for Carman-Ainsworth high school and middle-school staff.
Conducted by Jay Snodgrass, Genesee County assistant prosecuting attorney, and the Flint Township Police Department, the training involves a realistic scenario with officers playing the role of intruders. They fire blanks in a hallway to simulate gunfire and other officers respond.
Staff is briefed on what to expect and what to do before the simulation and are debriefed afterwards to provide feedback, Swierpel said.
Last week’s training took place at Dye Elementary school, which coincidentally was where a six-year-old brought an unloaded weapon to school in March. That incident remains under investigation by the county prosecutor’s office. The active shooter training at Dye was planned last winter, long before that incident occurred, Swierpel said.
Dye was chosen for the training because its layout makes it a good practice site, he said.
Staff learned from trainers that real situations in which a shooter enters a school, are typically over in about 14 minutes.
“We were able to talk about what staff members should and should not do, particularly in an elementary school where the students are looking to (adults) for leadership and a sense of safety and security,” Swierpel said.
Trainers talked about what to do from the time police enter the building until it is secure.
“Nobody enjoys thinking about this,’’ Swierpel said. “But being prepared is something we need to do now.”
Unlike practice drills, hearing the sound of gunfire n the hallway, though blanks, is very sobering, Swierpel said. People closest to the gunshots were highly reactive to scenario while those elsewhere in the building were in the dark about what was happening.
“That not knowing makes you very anxious,’’ Swierpel said.
Another statistic trainers shared is that in 25 percent of these incidents, the situation ended when the people under attack took some sort of action.
“I think people learned the kind of thinking process to use so that in the end you don’t have to just sit there and be a victim,” Swierpel said.
Forewarned is forearmed. C-A has installed a buzzer system and security cameras at school entrances to keep track of people entering the building but the staff was warned not to let that lull them into a false sense of security.
Police said people have a tendency to think this kind of thing can never happen in their building because they know the kids and the families.
“You can’t think that way,” Swierpel said. “ It does not matter where you’re at, it doesn’t matter if it has never happened before. It is your preparedness that determines the outcome.”