‘Active shooters’ test school staff

By Observer Upload May 01, 2013 10:11 am

by Richard Cockle/The Oregonian 

HALFWAY — Two masked men wearing hoodies and wielding handguns burst into the Pine Eagle Charter School last Friday in Halfway. Students were at home for an in-service day, so the gunmen headed into a meeting room full of teachers and opened fire.

Someone figured out in a few seconds that the bullets were not drawing blood because they were blanks and the exercise was a drill, designed to test Pine Eagle’s preparation for an assault by “active shooters” who were, in reality, members of the school staff. But those few seconds left everybody plenty scared.

Principal Cammie DeCastro said it became clear very quickly just how many of the school’s 15 teachers would have survived. The answer: “Not many,” she said.

Elementary teacher Morgan Gover, 31, said only two teachers would have lived to tell the tale. She admitted being scared, and also acknowledged she would have been among the casualties, having taken several fake direct hits from the shooters.

“I’ll tell you, the whole situation was horrible,” she said. “I got a couple in the front and a couple in the back.”

The surprised staff had received training from the Union County Sheriff’s Office on active shooter scenarios. They had been told they had some options, such as not rushing out of their classrooms when gunfire erupted, and locking and barricading their doors.

“There was some commotion,” DeCastro said.

The goal of the drill was to learn how people would react, so better emergency plans could be made, she said.

It was a wake-up for many of the teachers.

“It was shocking,” said elementary teacher Dollie Beck, 54.

Surprisingly, the drill made Beck aware that she would not have recognized the sounds of gunfire. “I would have blown it off as kids’ sounds in the hall,” she said.

The drill has since prompted her to keep her classroom door locked and to think of windows as escape routes, she said. But the biggest insight for her was the reminder that she is in charge of the youngsters in her classroom, and would have to remain calm in an emergency.

“Emotion begets emotion,” she said.

Gover said before the drill, she was comfortable she had a plan to deal with such a situation. What she learned was, her plan wasn’t much good. “It heightened my awareness about what’s around me,” she said.