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Los Al to Train Teachers, Students to Survive Mass Shooting

Officials hope to teach faculty the "Run, Lockdown, Escape and Act" method before school returns in the spring.

Students at Los Alamitos High School (Walt Weis)
Students at Los Alamitos High School (Walt Weis)

The day he allegedly killed eight people at Salon Meritage, Scott Dekraai had a heated exchange with administrators at the Seal Beach school his son attended, according to police.

In the moments after the shooting spree, officers arrested the heavily armed suspect as he drove in the direction of his son's second grade classroom at McGaugh Elementary. 

He was captured just blocks from the campus.

Confronted with what might have happened, and with the subsequent tragedies at Sandy Hook and Santa Monica College, the Los Alamitos Unified School District has taken on the daunting task of teaching students and teachers how to react when a gunman opens fire on campus.

District officials intend to teach the new plan (Run, Lockdown, Escape and Act) to faculty members before students return back in the fall, according to District Safety Consultant Don Farrell.

A 33-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Port Police, Farrell said the Santa Monica shooting showed that anyone could be attacked no matter where they were. So, he said, he started working on guidelines for the district.

Farrell sent out an email about the new guidelines to parents district-wide Wednesday.

The Department of Homeland Security’s advice of running away, hiding out and fighting back works for adults in an office building or a mall, Farrell said, but “doesn’t work when you’re dealing with first or second graders.”

“I decided we should take the existing Homeland Security guidelines on active shooters and modify it for an elementary school or other school environment, particularly the elementary,” Farrell said.

These are delaying tactics, ways to stall the gunman until first responders can arrive, said Farrell.

According to Farrell, the district’s schools do not face gang violence or high levels of crime, but they can always be made safer.

“Compared to schools in other areas, we have very safe schools, but the issue is, with the emerging trends of random violence, what can we do to raise the bar?” Farrell said.

Farrell has been examining district-wide facilities and looking into making them secure. Some of the options he’s considered include deadbolts on doors, panic buttons, alert systems, cameras and more fences. He plans to present his report on the security options to the school board in July.

Though the district plans to train staff before they return to school, Farrell said students could start thinking about the guidelines and practicing now.

The Guidelines

RUN

“The best thing you can do is get as far away from it as possible,” Farrell said. “Try to put a building between you and the shooter or some other solid object between you.”

“Direct other staff and students to do the same.  … If the students are too young to flee, get them inside a room and blockade the door. Call 911.”

LOCKDOWN

This means more than simply locking the door, according to Farrell.

“Barricade the doors with furniture,” Farrell said. “If you hear gunshots or see an active shooter while in a classroom or building – LOCK IT DOWN!  Lock the doors and barricade them with furniture, stay away from windows, and turn off the lights.  Call 911.”

ESCAPE

“If an active shooter is obviously trying to make entry into the classroom, you’ve got the door locked,” Farrell said. “But under a dedicated assault the door’s not going to survive long.”

So, Farrell said, the next step is to try escape.  

Farrell said to take any exit away from the attacker, whether it’s a window on the opposite side of the classroom or a back door or a door to another classroom.

“With younger children, you can’t just put them out the window and say, ‘Run,’ you have to give them specific instructions on where to go,” he said.  

ACT

This one is the last resort, Farrell said.

If the staff or students have already tried to run away, lock down the classroom or escape, and it didn’t work, students or teachers have to take action.

In the homeland security guidelines, the last option was called “fight,” but Farrell said a number of schools didn’t like using that word, so he changed it to “Act.” However, he said, it amounts to the same thing: defending yourself and other people.

“If you’ve got somebody doing violence against another person or trying to, you have an absolute right to defense,” Farrell said. “Do whatever it takes to try to minimize the loss of life for as long as you can.”

“If the shooter makes entry and there is no alternative – Act!  Throw furniture, books, or anything at the shooter to distract him while directing others to escape.  Tell your older students that it is OKAY to fight for their lives and the lives of their classmates.  Do not passively allow the shooter to carry out his plan.”

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