TONASKET – It’s a scenario no one wants to think about: a gunman loose in the local school, shooting staff and students.
It’s something no one wants to believe could happen in their own town.
It’s probably what residents of Littleton, Colorado, thought in as they sent their kids to school on the day of the Columbine High School massacre. Or in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, six years ago, when a gunman stormed into a one-room Amish schoolhouse and killed five girls.
If it can happen in the heart of Amish country, it can happen anywhere. That’s why the Tonasket Police Department has for the last dozen or so years coordinated a drill for area first responders to rehearse their reactions should they get such a call.
“It involves a mock school shooting at the high school, with the shooter still active when we arrive,” said Tonasket Police Chief Rob Burks. “It’s a full-blown drill. We’ll have law enforcement, EMS, fire department, and even the emergency room at the hospital involved.”
Officer Jim Rice will set up the scenario, keeping most of it under wraps, for others to respond to.
Burks said he is hoping for a large contingent of volunteers to take part in the training from other law enforcement agencies, school personnel and the community at large.
An orientation meeting open to all who are interested will be held at the Tonasket Fire Hall on Monday, July 9, 7 p.m., with the actual drill taking place Saturday, July 14, at Tonasket High School.
“My frustration has been that we invite all the law enforcement in the area — county, border patrol, tribal police — and we invite the community, and when Jim puts on his orientation and only seven or eight people show up,” Burks said. “I’m hoping we can get some participation from the teachers. I’m not sure if the message has been getting lost (in the past), or what, because if something happens they’ll be right in the middle of it.
“We want as many there as possible. I think (lack or participation) happens because people think that something like that couldn’t happen here.”
Law enforcement will be using “simunition” during the drill — similar to paintball; non-lethal but that can leave welts — while students will participate as victims who have been made up to simulate injuries.
“The officers will search room to room if the shooter isn’t actually shooting,” Rice said. “But if he starts up and they’re just a few rooms away, then they’ll go after him.”
“We go through a lot of training,” Burks said. “But a lot of it is sitting in a room watching Powerpoint. This is the only one that gets you ‘amped up.’ You might have someone run at you, and you have to decide if they’re a victim trying to escape, or the shooter. You’ll have kids on the floor, and some of them will be grabbing at you begging for help. The stress of it gets you sweating.”
Rice said that once the shooters have been apprehended, EMS is sent in to triage victims and transport them to the NVH Emergency Room.
“We try to overload the ER,” Rice said. “In the past, they’ve been really, really good.”
“This isn’t training for a stand-off, or something lengthy,” Burks said. “This focuses on that first 30 minutes of response if someone walks into the school and starts shooting people.”
“If I’m a parent, and I found out law enforcement was training to protect my kids, I would do everything I could to support it,” Rice said. “We don’t want to have to lose kids to something like this before people start taking this kind of training seriously.”
To participate, contact Burks or Rice at the Tonasket Police Department, (509) 486-4677, or through dispatch at (509) 422-7232.