DeWITT, Iowa — The Central Community School District adopted a new plan earlier this school year for training students and staff to respond to a shooter inside a school building.
On Wednesday, school staff were able to put the plan to the test during a training exercise.
With 38 school staff members acting as students, sophomore Karson Smith was given a gun loaded with plastic projectiles filled with colored soap and asked to play the role of a student who entered the school and began shooting.
The staff and police department were practicing using the Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, or ALICE, response system. The plan teaches students and staff to escape the building if at all possible, to barricade doors to protect themselves and, if necessary, to take action to confuse, frustrate or subdue an attacker.
Police Chief David Porter said Genesis Health Systems contacted him earlier this school year about coming up with a training exercise to help the emergency room and ambulance staff at Genesis Medical Center-DeWitt train for a mass-casualty event.
Because the school district had recently adapted the ALICE program, Porter said he thought the exercise would be a good opportunity to put the system to the test. It began at 3 p.m. Wednesday without students present. Regular classes had dismissed at 1 p.m. for a scheduled early-out teacher training day.
Smith said during the drill, he entered a gymnasium at the district’s middle school/intermediate school/high school complex on the east side of DeWitt and found 10 teachers inside playing dodge ball. As they had been trained, they used what they had to try to disrupt the shooter.
“They started throwing dodge balls at me,” Smith said. “One guy took his shoe off and threw that at me.”
In another part of the building, a group of staff members who were in a classroom opened the window, climbed out and ran to a designated nearby rally point.
The DeWitt Fire Department, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office and Clinton County Emergency Management personnel also participated in the exercise. The media was not allowed inside the school during the drill.
Porter said it appeared to have been a successful drill.
Terri Selzer, the school district’s dean of students for grades 4-12, and Jill Kleppe, the district’s juvenile court liaison, were trained in how to teach the ALICE system to other school staff. Students will learn more about the program in the future, but nothing has been scheduled.
They agreed that the drill had been a success.
“I think it went very well for our first run-through,” she said.
Kleppe said the drill gave staff members a chance to practice making the critical decisions they would have to make in a real-life shooting situation.
It was also a chance for school staff to learn what changes need to be made to be better prepared for a shooting situation. Selzer said after the drill that there need to be other ways to access the images from the security cameras outside the school building in case the shooter entered the school office, which currently is the only place those images can be accessed.
Kleppe said she learned the school needs to come up with a better system of designating its hallways. She said, for example, police could be told by someone inside the building that the shooter was in the 500 hallway, but only school personnel and students would know what that meant.
In the end, Smith was “shot” while exchanging the simulated gunfire with school resource officer Shawn Ziemet.
Ziemet complimented the student on his efforts after the exercise was over and wondered if he played a lot of military-themed video games. Smith said he had no real plan for what he would do once he got inside during the drill, which he called “an interesting experience.”