Halfway, Oregon: a town of under 300 people that came to fame 13 years ago for being the world's first "Internet City," and briefly changed its name to Half.com for $73,000. Just like in many towns across America, people in Halfway are worried about the issue of gun violence in schools. And so, on Friday last week an astonishing drill was conducted at Pine Eagle Charter School in this tiny rural community to test the preparation of Pine Eagle's teachers for active shooter scenarios. With students at home for the day, two masked men with handguns burst into a meeting room full of teachers and started opening fire.
Although the exercise was just a drill, it raises questions about whether active shooter scenarios with unsuspecting staff are good way to prepare people for the real thing or whether they are excessive, unnecessary, and potentially dangerous.
The few seconds it took for people to realise that the bullets were just blanks and the exercise was just a drill left teachers scared and shaken up. Elementary teacher Morgan Gover, 31, said "I'll tell you, the whole situation was horrible. I got a couple in the front and a couple in the back." Of the 15 teachers in the room, Principal Cammie DeCastro says that if the attack had been real, "not many" would have survived.
While staff had received training in active shooter scenarios from the Union County Sheriff's Office, they were not aware that the drill was going to take place (except for the masked men, who were both teachers at the school). According to Principal DeCastro, the point of the drill was to test how people would react to such a scenario so that better emergency plans could be designed. The district's Safety Committee and the School Board will now evaluate the results of the drill and the policies and procedures in place before deciding what to do next.
Despite the drill being criticised by some in Halfway, DeCastro argues that its value lies in giving teachers an idea of how they would respond to the real thing and the chance to analyze their response. "For us not to know how we were going to respond is leaving us open," she said.
Gover and another elementary teacher, Donnie Beck, 54, both agree. According to Beck, the drill made her aware that in the event of a real attack she would not have even recognised the sounds of gunfire and would have "would have blown it off as kids' sounds in the hall." For Beck, the drill reinforced the need to remain calm in an emergency, given that she is in charge of the safety of the young kids in her classroom. For Gover, the drill made her "analyze as a teacher what my role is for these babies" and highlighted the inadequacy of her previous plan for such a situation.
According to DeCastro, possible outcomes of the drill include armed teachers, armed volunteers from the community watching over the school in shifts, as well as better locks and tougher doors. Staff, according to Gover, tend to favor having armed teachers in the building at all times.
The active shooter scenario appears to have had the intended effect in terms of giving teachers a better idea of how they would react. But does this mean they a good idea and should they be used more widely? Or is scaring teachers by having guns fired at them excessive and unnecessary? Would the teachers have reacted differently had kids been present during the drill? What could have gone wrong with the drill? As some of the people responding to the story wondered, what if one of the teachers had had a concealed weapon, had tried to take down one of the attackers, or had a heart attack from the shock?
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