School shooting incidents are on the rise in the United States and their numbers are climbing at an alarming rate. Federal statistics show that in the decade leading up to the year 2010 these violent events exploded, totaling 58 incidents nationwide, claiming 226 lives. By stark contrast, only 16 such incidents took place over a 30 year period from 1960 to 1990.
While experts from every corner of the mental health profession are working to determine what could be causing this alarming trend, Active Shooter officials are preparing districts all over Utah to deal with the unthinkable, a stalking gunman in a local school.
During July's Carbon District School Board meeting, Jimmy Chapman along with his partner Dave Summers of the Utah School Board Risk Management Association introduced the scenario based initiative, hoping to see Carbon conduct its own round of Active Shooter training.
"This program emphasizes the need for scenario-based active shooter drill training for schools. We have fire and earthquake drills even though we do not have death by fire in our schools. We do have active shooting deaths in schools but we don't have any training to address that need. This program shows that even the best laid plan works much differently in practice than during discussion around conference table," said Chapman, who presented to the Carbon District School Board during their July 8 meeting. "Our program helps put all the factors in place which can make a school shooting unique to deal with."
According to Chapman, when law enforcement typically trains at many Utah schools, the students are not there, however, most police officials would like to have people around to more realistically demonstrate a hectic situation.
Information provided by Chapman shows that the Active Shooter program is meant to identify risks and construct scenarios which help find weaknesses in a school's current lock-down plan. More importantly however, the event shows administrators and faculty a "real life" scenario which begins with a gunshot.
"This training exercise is meant to show the actual level of confusion and stress which occurs when a school shooting takes place," explained Chapman. "It is meant to bring about questions. How did a particular school's lock-down policy work? Does it work at all? And if not, what changes need to be made?"
During the Carbon District meeting, Chapman displayed a video replay of Active Shooter training which took place in the South Summit district, the local response was immediate.
"This is a very powerful video," said boardmember Jeff Richens who had previously seen the Active Shooting presentation during statewide training. "My eyes were glued to the screen from the beginning of the presentation because of the life or death feeling gunshots can bring about."
The video detailed gunmen stalking school hallways while police, first responders and finally SWAT officials made entry into the building during the school's lock down procedure.
"In both Washington and South Summit major flaws were discovered in the schools lock-down procedure," explained Chapman. "It is so important to know what a gun sounds like when it goes off in a building, it's important to know it is very different from a book dropping."
During the presentation, both the shooter and law enforcement use "Hollywood" quality blanks which very accurately demonstrate the sound of gunfire. Special equipment is also used to ensure that no debris can be expelled from the end of a gun's muzzle.
According to information provided by Chapman, being prepared is vital because there is no way to know when this type of event could occur. The federal "Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative listed 10 key findings in their most recent outline including:
* Incidents of targeted violence at school rarely were sudden, impulsive acts.
* Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack.
* There is no accurate or useful "profile" of students who engaged in targeted school violence, some shooters in recent incidents came from "all-American families," while others were from single parent homes. A few were loners but most had close friends.
While Utah has been fortunate when it comes to school shootings, several close calls demonstrate that perseverance rather than luck saves lives. According to Chapman, incidents involving guns and school property in Kane County, Ogden, Washington County and the Granite School District show that the time for training and due diligence is now.
While no decision has been made by the Carbon District, consideration of active shooter training for local law enforcement and school officials is underway.