by Malcolm Butler
It’s not something school administrators and teachers want to think about, but in this day and age, it’s not something they can ignore.
With the national news inundated each week with tragic stories of active shooters on campuses and at other public places, the day of turning a blind eye to the possibility is over.
That’s exactly why Cedar Creek Head of School Cindy Hampton and teacher Jeannie Reynolds decided they needed to join forces with Lincoln Parish first responders in a training exercise on how to handle an active shooter scenario.
So during a day off for Cedar Creek students in early October, the school’s staff — teachers, administrators and support staff — went to class on how to handle the unthinkable.
“I think it opened our eyes to how quickly things can happen,” said Hampton. “And how prepared you always have to be.”
“It really woke the teachers up,” said Cedar Creek Assistant Principal of Elementary Karen Roberson. “It really helped them realize how serious things could be. It scared some of my teachers. It made you react really quickly on what you were going to do.”
Eye-opening to say the least.
The idea of the drill came after Hampton and Reynolds attended a statewide seminar in West Monroe on the new RAVE Panic app that the Louisiana schools are now utilizing for these types of emergencies. The system is tied directly into local first responders through the 911 call center.
“We got the app last year and started to use it on campus for our fire drills and everything else,” said Reynolds, who is married to Lincoln Parish Fire District Chief Kevin Reynolds. “Then we went to the meeting this summer. Legislation has put in that schools have to have this type of app.
“I knew through Kevin that they didn’t know a whole lot about it. I knew our Student Resource Officers (SROs) had it because the parish schools had it, but putting it all together with everyone being clear on it wasn’t there. I looked at Kip Franklin and said, ‘How do we practice?'”
A great question.
“How do we know what we don’t know,” said Hampton.
Another great question. Enter Franklin, Brad Wall and Lincoln Parish first responders.
So on October 6, the system was put to a test as Cedar Creek joined forces with the Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Ruston Police Department, Ruston Fire and Ambulance and the Lincoln Parish Fire District.
It was a training exercise that had tremendous benefits for both sides.
“It gave our it gives our responding officers an opportunity to see how it looks as far as responding and working with the other responding agencies,” said Wall, a captain with the LPSO who is the coordinator for the Lincoln Parish special response team. “Our objective is to locate, isolate and neutralize the threat. Then our attention turns towards casualty care, triage and transporting victims to the hospital.
“It gave us a great opportunity to get a good layout of the school. We do a lot of training in the schools in the summertime, but this gave us an additional opportunity for our officers to become more familiar with the school. We got to work on lockdown procedures. So now in the event of a mass casualty or an active shooter event, we’re familiar and have a contingency plan.”
It also gave Wall and his team a chance to work with the other first responders that combine forces for such an event.
“We get work with our law enforcement partners in the area in a multi-agency response event,” said Wall. “We get to train together in case something like this does eve happen. It’s a great exercise for cooperation among agencies in our area.”
The morning began in the multi-purpose room where Wall and his team talked through the various phases of an active shooter scenario, explaining how the staff should handle it depending on their location and immediate responsibility to the students.
“They went over safety and talked to the teachers,” said Reynolds. “They did a phenomenal job.”
After the Cedar Creek staff were assigned various buildings and even some “roles” to play during the drill, the real-life event began with a sound of gun fire. That led to Creek staff utilizing the RAVE panic app and the active shooter drill was in full force.
“I live with the (LP) Fire Chief and I know how important drill is,” said Reynolds. “Our teachers need that. It needs to be second nature what you do in a crisis. Once we asked Kip and the Sheriff’s Office about a drill, they were all in.”
The entirety of the drill took a few hours as it was restricted to just four buildings on the Creek campus in order for it to not be an all-day event. However,
“For years and years, schools have always trained for events, whether it be a tornado or a fire drill or things of that nature,” said Wall. “It’s unfortunate that we’re in the position now, but now we are training mock drills for active shooters and things of that nature. It gives them an opportunity to have a realistic look at what it may be like.
“So, they know what it looks like if they have to go into lock-down and stay in lock-down until we neutralize the threat. And that once we neutralize that threat, we are going to search the buildings and help evacuate them. It gives them a chance to see what that may look like.”
Wall said within the drill some of the teachers were chosen for triage with minor injuries.
“It gave the staff an opportunity to say how do I do my job, how do we keep up with all the things we need to keep up with to have accountability for each one of the teachers and students,” said Wall.
Wall said that although his team had done a full scale drill similar to this at the Lincoln Parish Early Childhood Center a few years ago, this was the first drill of its kind using the RAVE Panic app from what he was told. Hampton said the drill helped provide clarity and education on the school’s side.
“That’s one thing we wanted to know,” said Hampton. “When we send that alert, where does it go? What happens next?”
What happened according to Reynolds is the cavalry arrived.
“My emotion that morning when the drill started and you had the first gun fire … ,” said Reynolds, who was in the front parking lot with Hampton and a few others monitoring the exercise. “You start seeing the teachers do all of the things that they were taught, it was amazing. And then you see all of the emergency response vehicles rolling in, it was emotional. It made you go, ‘Wow. Look at them.’
“Just the response time and how serious they all took it. Their professionalism. You have that proud moment. You are proud of your teachers. You are proud of the first responders, the people you call your extended family. It was a very emotional, stressful morning. But when I say our emergency response (teams) knocked it out of the park, it was just phenomenal.”
And it was a win-win for Cedar Creek staff and Lincoln Parish First Responders.
“It was beneficial,” said Cedar Creek Boys AD Gene Vandenlangenberg. “It’s always better to be prepared. I felt like the emergency personnel did an outstanding job communicating and walking us through everything. I feel like our staff now has a much better feel and understanding of what to do if this ever occurs. Hopefully, we will never have to execute the plan, but at least we are prepared now.”