Highland schools empower staff against dangerous intruders

Missouri law enforcement officers are silhouetted in the dark as they watch Strategos International instructor Erik Baileygaines demonstrate proper procedure for entering a hallway during an intruder simulation drill Wednesday. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Jan. 31, 2013 8:55 am Updated: Feb. 14, 2013 10:15 am
Lewis County Sheriff David Parrish, right, keeps an eye on deputy Derek Fohey as the pair approach a classroom during an intruder simulation drill Wednesday. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

LEWISTOWN, Mo. -- Bill Oliver identified several weapons in a single Highland Elementary School classroom.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol officer twirled an American flag in his hand. The lightweight rod wouldn't bruise a shooter, but the pointed, gold-colored tip might blind an intruder.

A stapler wouldn't fire with the power of an AR-15, but if thrown hard enough, it could knock someone unconscious.

If a shooter would break through a barricaded door, a teacher could spray a fire extinguisher or disinfectant from a distance and distract an intruder long enough to save lives.

"You have to be willing to do something that you will never do in your life if this doesn't happen in your school," Oliver said.

Lewis County C-1 students took a break from schoolwork Wednesday afternoon while teachers took lessons on intruder safety. Oliver, an instructor with Strategos International, and the company's director of training, Mark Warren, spent the afternoon coaching educators, administration and school staff on potential ways to lock down and even fight back in the event of a school shooting.

"If you can't do it for yourself, can you do it for my kids?" Oliver asked. "Because you have parents every day that will expect you to."

While Stategos International has coached schools, churches and corporations on intruder procedures for more than 10 years, Warren said the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. has ignited interest in prevention and protection.

Superintendent Jacqueline Ebeling said the district has worked in conjunction with the Lewis County Sheriff's Department to protect students, but it intended for this event to provide a more secure educational environment. Highland High School Principal Alan Koch had attended the training in Glasgow and wanted to bring the program to the district.

"This is something that we have to have our staff trained on," Koch said. "This is what's coming."

As the country has clamored for both armed teachers and gun control, Strategos International has stressed increased awareness to the Highland staff and other schools. Oliver said teachers need to take action when things don't look right.

"It'll be a long time before Missouri says you can carry guns in a school," Oliver said. "What we need is for you guys to be vigilant."

And vigilance meant asking and answering hard questions.

If a favorite student cried outside the classroom door during a lockdown, should the teacher risk the lives of the class inside to save one child? An audible uneasiness rippled throughout the gymnasium as Warren explained the best solution meant instructing the child to run and call 911.

Should Sandy Hook teachers have huddled their students in a corner or a closet? Those clusters were just easy targets.

"That's what we had at Sandy Hook ... a lot of unprepared good guys," Warren said.

An intruder drill was conducted Wednesday with local law enforcement agencies and school staff. As Oliver fired an empty paintball gun in the school's hallway and attempted to break into classrooms, teachers such as Debbie Miller and Pam Teneyck enforced locks with ropes and piled bookshelves, desks and chairs in front of doors.

"A lot of it is just being aware," Miller said. "Just seeing the different scenarios and just being involved. It just makes you want to plan ahead."

Teneyck, a first grade teacher, said she plans to equip and examine her own classroom.

"Rather than doing it off the cuff, I'm going to go practice some things," Teneyck said.

Highland Elementary School Principal Larry Post said while a few of his teachers initially seemed reluctant, the staff gained a sense of empowerment from the four-hour workshop.

"I was really impressed how they took the training and then really applied it quickly," Post said.

Warren said instructing students to build barricades in front of doors would keep them occupied, active and less afraid. A mess of upside-down chairs, desks and bookshelves in front of a locked door would delay a shooter, and timing counts in dangerous situations.

Warren said it took 49 minutes for police officers to arrive on scene at the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. During that time, shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold took their time sweeping through the school and murdering students. Warren showed a surveillance video of the two toasting in the cafeteria midway through the attack.

Since Columbine, law enforcement agencies have stressed response time to save lives. Now, school personnel must be better prepared.

"Columbine is what changed law enforcement," Warren said. "Sandy Hook is what's going to change schools."


Missouri law enforcement officers meet with Strategos International instructor Erik Baileygaines, center left, before an intruder simulation drill Wednesday. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)


Missouri law enforcement officers from around the region check the perimeter while taking part in an intruder simulation drill Wednesday at Highland Elementary School in Lewistown, Mo. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)