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Preparing for tragedy

At St. Edmond school, staff and local law enforcement pretend a gunman is in the building

August 17, 2012
By HANS MADSEN ( , Messenger News

He's angry, he's armed, and he's roaming the halls of St. Edmond High School looking for his estranged wife. When confronted, he shoots a cop.

Within seconds, the echoes of the exchange of shots and the clink of spent shell casings hitting the floor drifts away. Then lights go out in the classrooms, doors are locked and the haze of smoke surrounding the officer on the floor begins to clear as he manages to call for backup.

The cavalry arrives in minutes, guns drawn, looking for the shooter who steps out of a classroom. He points his gun at the officers.

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After the building was secured, the staff — including science teacher Amy Keenan and her daughter Ella, 7 — were moved to a safer area as part of the drill.

It's his last mistake. The shooter dies before hitting the floor.

For Rachael Gannon and Scott Wiemers, who are about to start their first year of teaching, Thursday's realistic training turned an abstract scenario - one they had talked about - into something concrete.

"It's better to act it out than to talk about," Gannon said.

Sitting in the dark waiting for help can be unnerving.

"Especially since you could hear gunshots and banging on the door," Wiemers said.

St. Edmond High School Principal John Howard took part in the training exercise with his staff.

"Demonstration is the best way for students to learn," he said. "It's very powerful."

Howard said actually having a scenario acted out - complete with gunfire, smoke and yelling - really helps.

"It gives the staff a chance to think if they're in that situation," he said.

Howard didn't like hearing gunshots in the school, either.

"Hopefully we never hear real gunshots," he said.

He was grateful to the law enforcement and public safety community for their help and really enjoyed being able to discuss situations with them.

"It brings up different questions," Howard said. "It gets us talking about school safety."

Amy Keenan teaches high school science at St. Edmond. She brought her daughter, Ella, 7, to the drill.

Keenan said she passes along what she's learned in situations such as Thursday's.

"I share this with my teacher friends," she said. "It's a good thing to be ready."

Fort Dodge Police Chief Tim Carmody led the classroom session for the staff.

He said there are four basic principles involved in keeping the school safe in an active shooter situation: prevention, mitigation, response and recovery.

"It's an evolving process with the school and parents," he said.

Carmody said law enforcement works with the school to form a holistic, all-around approach that includes tabletop exercises and feedback to fine tune the response.

"We want this to be a safe and effective learning environment," he said.

Exposing the staff to a realistic scenario is called stress inoculation.

"We're exposing them as close to reality in a safe scenario," Carmody said, "They can recognize their threat cues and how to properly respond."

It's much like the realistic training his officers experience.

He also stressed to the participants that they should not let fear or mass casualty shootings hamper their lives.

"If we let that take control of our lives," Carmody said, "he's won."

Officers from the Fort Dodge Police Department, Webster County Sheriff's Department, Iowa State Patrol, Webster County Emergency Management and the Fort Dodge Fire Department participated.

Only one real injury was reported.

Fort Dodge Police Sgt. Chuck Guthrie tore open a wound on his elbow - providing a little real blood on him and the floor.

"I believe in reality," Guthrie said.

Not bad for a man who got shot twice in one day.



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