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Educators get training at UMass in response to shooting

  • UMass Police Lt. Ian Cyr speaks during a course on preparing for an active shooter Thursday at the UMass Police Station.

    UMass Police Lt. Ian Cyr speaks during a course on preparing for an active shooter Thursday at the UMass Police Station. Purchase photo reprints »

  • UMass Police Lt. Ian Cyr, speaking recently during a course on preparing for an active shooter at the UMass Police Station, has been named deputy chief.

    UMass Police Lt. Ian Cyr, speaking recently during a course on preparing for an active shooter at the UMass Police Station, has been named deputy chief. Purchase photo reprints »

  • UMass Police Lt. Ian Cyr speaks during a course on preparing for an active shooter Thursday at the UMass Police Station.

    UMass Police Lt. Ian Cyr speaks during a course on preparing for an active shooter Thursday at the UMass Police Station. Purchase photo reprints »

  • UMass Police Lt. Ian Cyr speaks during a course on preparing for an active shooter Thursday at the UMass Police Station.
  • UMass Police Lt. Ian Cyr, speaking recently during a course on preparing for an active shooter at the UMass Police Station, has been named deputy chief.
  • UMass Police Lt. Ian Cyr speaks during a course on preparing for an active shooter Thursday at the UMass Police Station.

So Booxbaum, the coordinator for the Collaborative for Educational Services program, showed up last week for a session on dealing with active shooters sponsored by the University of Massachusetts police.

“I came because of Sandy Hook. I want to learn what to do if we have a situation at the school” Booxbaum said.

After listening to the lecture and talking with state police, she left feeling assured that she would get help putting together a plan to protect her 41 students and eight staff members.

“I’m so glad UMass did this,” Booxbaum said.

The “Responding to the Active Threat” workshop brought 40 educators and law enforcement professionals, representing 14 communities and agencies, to the UMass police station last Thursday as a way of refreshing existing safety procedures and examining responses that go beyond the lockdown drills and existing protocols schools employ.

While area cities and towns already have annual trainings in dealing with gunmen and other threats to the safety of students and staff, the workshop was designed to outline supplemental approaches to school district policies.

Detective Lt. Ian Cyr helped developed the program that already has been presented to more than 5,000 staff and students at UMass. He said the idea is to give educators and others information on what to do in the time between when the threat first appears and when police arrive.

Cyr said the recent school shootings in Newtown provided the impetus to offer the program to the broader community. Working with Officer Mark Whelihan, a member of the community outreach unit, the program was created after a shooting spree at Virginia Tech University in 2007. That incident drove home the point that those who live, work and study on the campus needed more education, Cyr said.

Over the past 15 years, he said, 323 children have been killed in school shootings.

For law enforcement, large-scale shootings, with more than 200 such incidents dating back to the 1960s and 64 occurring at schools, have been continually evolving, Cyr said.

“Each one of these incidents brings something new, a different twist, and we do need to be out in front of it,” Cyr said.

For instance, at Columbine High School in 1999, police officers waited outside, establishing a perimeter, until tactical teams arrived, thus allowing the shooters more time to continue their carnage.

“After that event, law enforcement responses changed,” Cyr said.

Even with quicker police responses, significant death tolls are still possible, he said. Ninety-five percent of such events are over in less than 10 minutes. “The point is, time is not on our side,” he said.

One element is creating a survival mindset, which Cyr and Whelihan illustrated by showing a video, titled “Shots Fired,” that was made by the Center for Personal Protection and Safety of Spokane, Wash.

Whelihan said the idea is to have people figure out what is happening and then act appropriately. “It is all situational-dependent,” Whelihan said.

Those participating in the workshop were also informed about the ALICE program, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. Some schools are beginning to teach it to students, even though the counter aspect has been controversial, as it shows people how to interrupt the act of shooting.

Cyr said ALICE is not about demonstrating how to take out the shooter or even to approach the perpetrator.

“We do not advocate seeking out the person doing the shooting,” Cyr said.

But he said it does give options that might include fleeing from the building where the shooter is, rather than staying put.

At Virginia Tech, those who attempted to flee were more likely to survive the attack than many of those who barricaded themselves into rooms, he said.

Jason Krol, who works as the school resource officer for Belchertown public schools, said he agrees that the schools need to at least consider it. “It’s all about options,” Krol said.

Krol, who attended the program, said he would like to examine more age-appropriate responses, with the understanding that if a bad guy is in the building, kindergarten children wouldn’t swarm him, but high schoolers might have to under a similar circumstance.

He pointed to Minnechaug High School, where ALICE has been adopted. “Schools out here are beginning to look at options as well,” Krol said.

As part of a healthy and safe schools committee, Krol will report back to the Belchertown School Committee to determine if the program is something its members are interested in adopting.

David Slovin, the safety liaison for the Amherst public schools, said the workshop is part of efforts to continue to expand the thought process for school safety.

He expects to speak to Superintendent Maria Geryk and the police department about how the schools might adjust lockdown and sheltering-in-place procedures, noting that the situation changes when someone gets through a locked door.

Montessori School of Northampton teacher Karen Mayer and Rose Cabrera, office manager at the school, said they intend to speak to the head of school and begin discussions about whether the workshop’s suggestions can be implemented.

“This is a reminder that best practices can change,” Mayer said.

She said Cyr and Whelihan led a thoughtful discussion that promotes the well-being of those at school.

“There is always room for improvement considering the situation,” Cabrera said.

Even before the Sandy Hook tragedy, local schools began taking steps to enhance school safety.

In Northampton, Johanna McKenna, director of Academic Effectiveness, said Superintendent Brian Salzer has been meeting with police and more closely examining security measures, such as installing cameras in school buildings.

“We have a very positive, continuing relationship with police and fire and city departments,” McKenna said. “There’s always a consistent level of coordination going on with anything affecting student safety.”

Amherst annually holds scenario exercises involving about 80 school staff members, the police department, town departments, the town manager and representatives from UMass and Amherst College police, said Police Capt. Jennifer Gundersen.

Slovin said the regular training has built up partnerships and led to what he hopes will be an effective plan.

“We always have to get better. We say that to people all the time,” Slovin said.

In August, Amherst police did an eight-hour active training response to a shooter. That hadn’t happened in a couple of years due to lack of funding.

“It’s something we’d like to do annually,” Gundersen sad.

She said the next event, already scheduled, is a daylong workshop with Lt. Col. David Grossman, a leading expert on addressing critical incidents and understanding the roots of violence and violent crime. Gundersen said this will give Amherst a better chance of succeeding in an incident similar to the Newtown shootings.

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