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University Staff Train to Respond to Armed Intruders

"Shooting events are going to occur. The more we are trained, trained and trained, the better we can respond to them. The better our situational awareness is to what's around us — not just in a school setting."

Active shooter training
(TNS) - The scenario was a simple one.

Fake gun gripped in both fists, Burt Whaley made his way to each Kansas City University Joplin employee assembled inside the school's auditorium on Thursday. Each used his or her entire body strength to push the outstretched gun down and away.

"Good," Whaley said, praising each successful maneuver. Think of it, he told them, as if an armed intruder, intent on killing, was forcing his way inside their individual classrooms.

The Strategos International instructor was in Joplin to lead a session on active-shooter and intruder-response training, just 16 days after the third deadliest school shooting in the United States took place in Uvalde, Texas .

Twice a year, KCU trains its faculty and staff on active-shooter safety, and has done so since 2011.

Without a doubt, that training is paramount, said Whaley, a retired military police officer.

"Shooting events are going to occur," he said. "The more we are trained, trained and trained, the better we can respond to them. The better our situational awareness is to what's around us — not just in a school setting and not just within a business setting, but inside a restaurant, a movie theater, a park — all of these principles apply to how to respond to a threat or to an active shooter."

There was a reason why boxes of tissues were present and there were more than a few wet eyes throughout the auditorium during Whaley's PowerPoint presentation. Whaley took detailed looks at several mass and school shootings, and the almost "evolutionary" game being played out between active shooters and law enforcement tasked with stopping them.

For example, during a 1980 church shooting in Dangerfield, Texas , congregation members thought an armed shooter wearing camouflage was part of a fictional reenactment. During the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack inside a government building, onlookers believed the sounds of guns firing was simply "construction noise." During the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the armed gunman — looking for the most targets — peered three or four times into several classrooms over a short period of time without arousing any suspicion or physical confrontation. A lack of situational awareness was on display during the 1999 Columbine school attack, when frantic staff failed to lock doors and hid students beneath tables, using tornado drill instructions.

After the Columbine massacre, training of school officials and law enforcement officials kicked into high gear. Schools established lockdown procedures and training for teachers to lock and barricade doors, turn off lights and have students kneel on the floor out of sight from windows in doors. During the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School , Katlin Roig used her training to lock her classroom door, move all of her students inside a bathroom, and then use a bookshelf to barricade that bathroom door from within until the all clear sounded — all survived.

For police, Whaley said, they learned not to establish a cordon or wait for a SWAT team to arrive but to move inside the school as quickly as possible and pressure and engage the armed intruder; that's because the shooters, once confronted by the police, often died by suicide. This happened at Virginia Tech , Columbine and Sandy Hook.

"But humans are humans," Whaley said. "Training ... is huge, but when we slow down, we are not anticipating what's next, what evolution has the shooter gone to now."

Which, he said, is what happened in Uvalde . When the armed shooter was confronted by police, "this person shot back. He fought. He not only fought the police, but he kept them at bay."

It's similar to the Cold War, where the East and the West constantly tried to one-up the other with weapons systems to gain a strategic advantage.

"Except the Cold War," Whaley said, "didn't involve killing."

During the training, participants learned to identify potential threats in the workplace and how to respond to violent intruders using, for example, the "run, hide, fight" protocol, as well as hands-on, scenario-based training such as "swarming" an intruder or finding and using improvised weapons.

Josh Gilreath , the school's safety and emergency management supervisor who sat through the session, said he's proud of how seriously KCU officials take the training.

"I feel like we provide better than a lot of other facilities," he said.

"It's something that can happen in Joplin — it's something that almost did happen in Joplin ," he said, referring to an October 2006 incident where a 13-year-old walked into Memorial Middle School in Joplin bearing an assault rifle and pointed it at an administrator and discharged the weapon into the ceiling of a school hallway before he was escorted from school grounds. "We were very fortunate (that day) ... so this training is very important."

"I hate to toot our own horn, but I think that, along with some other things that we do, I think it gives us a leg up on ... overall student safety," added Jim Harrington , KCU's director of campus operations. "These situations will continue, for whatever reason, but we are better trained than we were 15 years ago."

©2022 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.