Violent intruder drill helps prepare for the worst

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Students who played gunshot victims during the drill were removed from the school building and cared for by the Garnavillo EMS team. Visible at left is a student with an occlusive bandage on a chest wound, and at right is a student with a bullet wound in the abdomen. Both students were given basic first aid by their classmates while still in the school. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

Barricading doors and applying tourniquets isn’t your typical middle school classroom lesson, but for Clayton Ridge students, it’s become second nature. During a violent intruder drill on Saturday, July 8, 50 students and teachers participated in an exercise that could potentially save their lives and the lives of others in an active shooter situation.

Students at Clayton Ridge are trained in the A.L.I.C.E. (Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate) program for responding to potential school intruders. They routinely practice exercising various evacuation routes, covering classroom windows, barricading doors and using basic first aid techniques. However, Saturday’s drill was the first of its kind. 

“This will lead the way for a lot of other school districts in Iowa and even in the nation,” said Superintendent Shane Wahls while prepping students for the drill. In addition to training students since 2014, Clayton Ridge has been preparing for a violent-intruder type situation with simple adjustments that can make a big impact. 

Classroom numbers have been painted beneath windows on the exterior of the building to help rescue workers determine the location of incidents before entering the school. Middle school classrooms are equipped with safety buckets that contain flashlights, duct tape, first aid kits, ropes and other items that could be helpful in a situation with a violent intruder.

Of the 50 participating youth, older students were hand picked as victims during the drill. They were fitted with lanyards that informed rescue workers of their injuries, blood pressure, respiration and responsiveness, as well as with stage makeup to illustrate their wounds. The parts were scripted, but the students were still prepared for the worst. “This is practice. You take scary things and do it over and over again, and pretty soon it’s not as scary,” said Clayton Ridge Middle School teacher and certified A.L.I.C.E. instructor Brian Lawrence.

Lawrence spent 10.5 years in the U.S. Army Special Operations with the 3rd Ranger Battalion and 20th Special Forces Group. He's one member of the Clayton County Violent Intruder Coalition, which  made this drill possible. Coalition members include Sarah Moser, Clayton County Emergency Management; Amy Holst, Assistant Sector Coordinator Keystone AEA; Jerry Farmer, Clayton County Conservation Officer; Tucker Anderson, Clayton County Park Ranger; Tim Engelhardt, Clayton County Deputy Sheriff; and Mitch Seitz, Elkader Chief of Police.

  "All members are certified A.L.I.C.E. instructors but our Violent Intruder Coalition has evolved to include not only A.L.I.C.E. concepts but also Run Hide Fight and any way to increase survival during a violent encounter. A good example of this is the first aid training we have been working on," said Lawrence. "This drill is a culmination of several years work, including training staff and students, participating in other violent intruder drills, and training such as a Rescue Task Force-Hostile Event Interdiction Course. The last six months included monthly meetings with key leaders in local law enforcement, fire, and EMS; all great people to work with. Over all this was a small drill, meaning not every possible entity was involved. We did this to simplify our planning process and set a good example for future drills, not specifically to leave anyone out."

With area law enforcement informed that a drill was taking place, the action began. An active shooter, played by a current law officer in-training, entered the school and opened fire. He made his way through several rooms and hallways before taking both students and teachers hostage in a classroom. Two minutes after a 911 call was made from within the school, a Garnavillo police officer arrived and entered the school through the front door. Following just behind were members of the Iowa State Patrol and the Clayton County Sheriff. Garnavillo Fire and EMS waited anxiously to begin assessing the damage. A perimeter was secured around the school and law enforcement began searching for the gunman. 

Meanwhile, teachers and students inside were taking steps to protect themselves and their classmates. One group used a pair of baseball pants to tie the door shut and a heavy table to barricade their classroom. Both the gunman and a police officer tried and were unable to enter the room because of the high quality barricade.

“What we saw done before we got to a patient was excellent,” said Garnavillo EMS personnel Rachel Fritz. As fire and EMS workers cleared victims and uninjured students out of the school, they noticed many of the injuries had already been stabilized – tourniquets applied to appendages, duct tape and clothing secured over bleeding wounds, and in one case, even an occlusive bandage applied to the front and back side of a student who’d been shot straight through the chest.  “When you have something like that done, it makes getting the injured out much easier.” 

Law enforcement was able to apprehend the shooter and remove him from the school within 8.5 minutes of the 911 call. At that point, EMS workers began to enter the building to treat the victims. 

“This school is ready,” said Amy Holst, Keystone AEA coordinator. “Let’s pray we never need it.”

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