Mike McKibbin

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February 6, 2013
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'Active shooter' exercise helps officials plan for the worst

At 9:08 a.m., a man walked through the front door of Rifle Middle School with a visible handgun. He turned right and walked down the sixth grade hall.

Immediately, school staff who observed the man from the front office ordered a lockdown of the entire school, called 911 and sent text messages to administrators in Garfield School District Re-2, letting them know the situation. A minute later, three gun shots were heard.

None of this was real. Hopefully, the nearly 800 students at the sprawling, two-block school will never be put in such a dangerous situation, nor any other school in the area.

But on Friday, Jan. 31, the day off for students under the district's four-day school week calendar, school and district staff, Rifle police, Garfield County Sheriff's Department and Colorado River Fire Rescue representatives gathered to go through just such a potentially tragic event.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Connecticut, and deadly shootings at places like Columbine High School and the Aurora movie theater in Colorado, emergency officials nationwide are reviewing their plans for such incidents.

School resource officer Dustin Marantino organized the table top exercise at the middle school and planned to hold similar exercises at other schools in the district.

"We choose Rifle Middle School as the first one because it's the largest and is so geographically spread out," he said.

School staff members noted the time the incident began would put nearly every student in a classroom, and Assistant Superintendent Brad Roy said the district office's role would be to coordinate resources, establish a single contact point at the school and communicate with parents.

Marantino then said the "active shooter" scenario continued at 9:10, with the gunman running out the door at the end of the hallway and toward Centennial Park.

Police and other law enforcement officers who responded began searching the area immediately, as well as securing the school so the gunman could not double back and re-enter the school.

Fire and medical responders staged at the nearby Garfield County Fairgrounds and prepared to treat any injured parties. Area hospitals were notified, and the Care Flight medical helicopter was put on standby.

The All Hazards Response Team, a specially trained team of officers from several departments, arrived within 30 minutes. They specialize in negotiating, and if necessary, forcing their way into buildings if a suspect is barricaded.

Marantino noted he walked from one corner of the school to the farthest corner in two minutes and 40 seconds, so a search through rooms for a suspect "would take awhile."

Fire Marshall Kevin Whelan noted teachers walking the halls could become victims in such situations.

"Everyone knows if they're in a classroom in a lockdown, they lock the doors, get everyone in the center of the room and away from windows," Marantino said.

Police Sgt. Vaughn Miles reminded school officials to keep the number of 911 calls from the school to a minimum, so officers don't get conflicting or repeat information.

Seven school buses would be available to help evacuate the school, Ray said.

Summing up the exercise, Re-2 maintenance director Craig Jay said the district was looking into the possible purchase of a "panic button" system, similar to those used in banks. That system would implement a lockdown, call 911 and electronically lock doors, he said.

While most such "active shooter" incidents last mere minutes, noted Ray, "the fallout from something like this can last 20 years."

Miles said someone who finds themselves in such a situation should remember three things.

"If there's a shooter on the grounds, run and hide," he stated. "If you can't do that, then fight. That's good advice for schools and businesses."

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The Post Independent Updated Feb 6, 2013 05:28PM Published Feb 6, 2013 05:27PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.