At Clear Creek Middle School this past Wednesday, roughly 40 seventh and eighth grade students crammed into a classroom off the back hallway and began stacking the room’s tables in front of the locked door.
Under the direction of TAC*ONE Consulting trainer Joe Deedon, the students moved efficiently in groups of two and four, picking up the tables and arranging them to create a layered barricade.
Once the tables had been stacked, Deedon instructed the students to grab all the classroom’s chairs and add them to the barricade, providing extra layers of protection in case the door was breached.
While the students were having fun with their friends showing off their table-lifting strength, they were actually learning how to build a barricade — one of three main tenets of the student-focused active-shooter training that had brought TAC*ONE to Johnson County School District No. 1.
Active shooter training, according to the TAC*ONE website, is “designed to address the threat of an active shooter and other violent critical incidents on school grounds and college/university campuses.”
“We’re not traumatizing kids, we’re giving them options, we’re exposing them to some things so that if something happens, they can quickly react when there’s not an adult around playing quarterback,” Deedon said during the staff training on April 18.
Throughout the remainder of the week, staff and students across the district went through trainings with Deedon and fellow trainer Rich Krantz to learn how to effectively build a barricade and to learn the two other tenets of the training — evacuate and fight.
At Meadowlark Elementary School, the training on April 19 primarily focused on evacuation, with the trainers instructing the students to be quiet like “ninjas” while following their teacher’s hand signals to get to safety as a group.
Deedon told all of the K-12 students and staff he worked with throughout the week that it’s important to calmly evacuate and not just run. Running, he said, can suggest having no plan, whereas an evacuation contains calculated moves to reach safety.
“There’s been several shootings lately, because they’ve been happening in the open environments, to where people got caught just blindly running and that’s the last steps they take,” Deedon said at the staff training.
At Buffalo High School and later at Clear Creek, the students also learned to fight in case it ever became necessary. To help the students practice, Deedon dressed in tactical gear and brandished a fake gun while groups of students tackled and trapped his limbs to negate the threat.
At the middle school, students were told to only help tackle a threat if a teacher or another adult requested the help, while at BHS, the students were taught to fight in groups of four by themselves to stop a person, if necessary.
While each of the three tenets was important in its own right, Deedon’s larger message was that they were just options and that the training should help the staff and the students to choose which one works best for the situation they find themselves in.
He spoke in the middle school, high school and staff trainings of recent shootings — such as the incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in 2018 — where the shooter had pulled the fire alarm to get kids out of class.
In that situation, Deedon said, a lockdown that many students were accustomed to couldn’t help them, but if they had known how to safely evacuate, they might have been saved.
Johnson County Superintendent Charles Auzqui, who was present for all student and staff trainings, said he felt that providing options was the most important part of the training, especially for the district’s older students who had been through traditional lockdown drills in the past.
A lockdown drill typically instructs students to turn off classroom lights, shut window blinds and sit behind desks or in the corner of the classroom not visible from a doorway window.
“Empowering people is probably our No. 1 thing that came out of this,” he told the Bulletin. “Coming back to that, you know, you want to evacuate, barricade or fight, but there’s no clear decision; it just is based on where you’re at and what you’re doing.”
Law enforcement trained too
While the weeklong training mostly focused on staff and students, law enforcement officers with the Buffalo Police Department, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and Wyoming Game and Fish Department participated in their own half-day training at the end of the week.
“It’s the first time in over eight years that this type of training has been offered in a collaborative piece, so (it was great) to see your sheriff’s department, your police department, and even the Fish and Game attend,” Auzqui said.
Throughout the half-day training, shell casings from simunitions — a non-lethal marking ammunition — increasingly littered the floor of the high school as officers and mock school shooters traded shots from simulation pistols and rifles both in the hallway and inside a classroom on the school’s first floor.
The officers worked alone, and in pairs, sweeping the hallways and checking the classrooms in an effort to locate the mock shooter.
The law enforcement training is unique among school shooting training, Deedon told the officers, because it focuses specifically on one- and two-officer responses. This can be especially valuable in more remote locations like Wyoming, where it may take 15 minutes or more for a second or third officer to respond.
“You’ve got to be effective, right?,” Deedon said to the officers. “So that’s why I like this program because, you know, it’s a dedicated lesson and it’s been heavy on a single officer and we’ll do a few two (officer).”
As officers moved through the school hallway during the four scenarios Deedon presented, the stress and nerves generated by the mock situation were palpable.
Over the course of the training, Deedon’s messages were clear — don’t give up your element of surprise and shoot to kill before a shooter could get to more victims.
“No one’s going to ever tell the deputy or the county sheriff or law enforcement, ‘Hey, you know what, you were a little too aggressive that day at the high school or the rec center or the city hall when that gunman came in, you know, and was just indiscriminately shooting unarmed people, you know, you shouldn’t have probably used force,” Deedon said.
Reaction to prevention
The majority of students and staff the Bulletin spoke with throughout the week talked positively about the training and seemed to appreciate having more response options than a traditional lockdown drill.
But the training was just that, the response to school shootings around the United States, from the Florida school shooting in 2018 to the Oxford High School shooting in Michigan just five months ago.
Deedon, throughout the training, was open with both the students and the staff that the training isn’t meant to be the prevention piece of the puzzle.
“We know about the prevention, we know about the tip lines, anti-bullying classes, we get it,” Deedon said at the staff training. “But there’s still got to be a response, right?”
While Auzqui said that he believes the TAC*ONE training is invaluable for students and staff, that prevention piece is also crucial to potentially stop shootings before they begin.
Auzqui said that, because of the training, the district’s emergency response management plan is being revised, but that the district’s system when a potential threat is reported remains effective.
“If a student brings it to a staff member, the staff member has the responsibility to report that to administration, and then their responsibility is to make sure if it was a viable threat or not,” Auzqui said. “And if it’s something viable, then you get the local law enforcement involved.”
If threats are determined to be viable, which Auzqui said primarily means looking at the evidence available, parents will also be kept in the loop.
On top of threat assessment, prevention in Johnson County means focusing more on school security, Auzqui said, with the district looking into upgrading and expanding its security camera systems at the schools and preparing to roll out an updated building visitor system called Verkada.
That system would be able to quickly background check visitors and keep a log of who has visited buildings in the district.
“If we set it up, you could just simply come in with your driver’s license, it could be scanned, it would do a facial recognition of who you are, it would do a background check real quickly,” he said in March. “That’s the direction we’re headed.”
The system even has the ability to track people across school buildings, Auzqui said, meaning it would recognize people by face and name without having to run the background check each time.
Prevention in Johnson County also means investing more money and effort into the potential parent liaison program that the district is working to get set up before the start of the next school year, Auzqui said.
The program — which is currently used in districts throughout Montana and Wyoming — is designed to have dedicated liaisons within the schools to provide family support and help families access community resources, especially during times of crisis.
“We’re going down that road of what we can do with our counselors to kind of help support that social emotional piece,” Auzqui said. “It also comes back to, especially K-5 or K-6, if we can get that parent liaison, you know, those people helping deal with some community members or identifying things early.”
The training that students, staff and law enforcement participated in last week was just the first of a three-year program of training that the district has planned to receive from TAC*ONE.
Auzqui said that the next two years of training will likely include more hands-on and in-depth scenarios, as opposed to the discussions on school shootings and the basics of the training program that staff and students received this year.
He said that next year’s training — tentatively scheduled for January or February — will reinforce many of the lessons that students learned this year while working more on specific scenarios with staff, before eventually going even more in depth.
“Stage three or four would, what most school districts go into, if you feel comfortable, we’ll start talking about how do you address what they call triage-type things,” Auzqui said.
This triage training, according to Deedon, would mostly occur with staff, showing them the basics of triage medicine in the event that they are deep into a building where police or paramedics can’t reach them quickly.
But the training is more than just when TAC*ONE is in the district, Auzqui said, and must include reflection and repetition from the district itself.
This means incorporating things like evacuation drills into the school year as frequently as fire drills and making a concerted effort to continue to practice the lessons learned so that all parties involved in the training can be as prepared as possible.
“More importantly for me is that local law enforcement, teachers, administrators all know what everybody’s been trained (on) so they can know, ‘Hey, this is what the school is doing,’” Auzqui said. “We know, ‘Hey, this is what law enforcement is going to do when they get on site.’”