Fairview staff practices Active Harmer Scenario
On Tuesday, January 3rd, five shots rang through the student center. The intercom blared a little over a minute later. The school was ordered to lock down. The usual drill is familiar: shut doors, turn off lights, and stay silent. But this was not the usual drill. Mike Heath, school resource officer, hefted his SWAT rifle and edged through the choir hall, peering around corners. In a surreal change from the usual packs of teens filling the Fairview halls, four policemen stalked the deserted school, guns up. The air smelled subtly of gunpowder. And then, shouting a triumphant “Bang!” an officer cornered a man in the stairwell leading to the counseling office. The man walked up the stairs smiling. Dressed in slacks and a blue button down shirt, the only unusual thing about him were the pistols tucked in his pants pockets. All in all, it wasn’t exactly a normal workday for Fairview’s teachers and administrators. That in-service day doubled as a training day for both teachers and Boulder police, placing them in a situation closer to reality than any lockdown drill run with students. Though the shooter was an officer himself, and his gun loaded with blanks, teachers were obviously struck by the difference between sitting in a darkened classroom for ten minutes, just waiting to continue class, and actually hearing the dull pop of gunfire echoing through Fairview’s labyrinthine hallways.
The exercise, which ran twice with two different scenarios, called up questions that hadn’t occurred to school staff previously. Though some previously unnoticed risks were pointed out, the majority of the staff seemed to feel that the exercise had taught them beneficial strategies for responding to a threat within Fairview. Sgt. Jeff Kessler, who heads up the School Resource Officer division, firmly believes that forewarned is forearmed. “It’s going to go that much easier if it does happen, because you’ve already put the seeds in your head,” he says. “Hopefully the stuff that we did today, just the two scenarios, it’s gonna get people thinking ‘jeez, if this happens, this is what I’m going to do.’”
In addition, violent crime in schools has decreased drastically in the last ten years. According to National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland based security consultation company, there were only 11 violent deaths nationwide at K-12 schools in the 2009-2010 school year, down from 33 in the 1999-2000 school year. Fairview is far from the first school to participate in one of these drills. The Boulder Police Department conducted the first one in 2009 at Manhattan Middle School. “It was the first time we got the school personnel involved, and it’s been fantastic,” said Kessler of the first drill.
Since the events of Columbine in 1999, school security has become a priority across the country. Police have developed response strategies designed to minimize the harm an intruder can do. For instance, teachers have been directed to keep their doors “propped and locked” -- propped open but with the bolt in a locked position. In addition, the BPD has changed their traditional response tactics, learning from police experience with school shooter situations in the nation’s past.
Both times the drill ran, the shooter was caught within 15 minutes. Even when he disabled the intercom, teachers responded quickly to the threat. There was only one confirmed “fatality”: during the second drill, Fairview’s beloved principal Don Stensrud was “shot” after he made the mistake of poking his head out of the main office door. Otherwise, police, administrators, and teachers alike performed well. Though the drill was a success, not every teacher in the school was pleased with the use of the day. “That Monday was a workday by our mutually agreed upon contract, not an in-service day,” said Leigh Campbell-Hale. Furthermore, she believes that the trainings don’t necessarily help teachers. “I suspect they might provide a false sense of security,” she said.