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Preventing a school’s worst nightmare

Members of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s SWAT team walk up from Central Kitsap High after a school shooting training simulation Wednesday.  - Photo by Jesse Beals
Members of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s SWAT team walk up from Central Kitsap High after a school shooting training simulation Wednesday.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

Two teenage males, armed with rifles, entered Central Kitsap High School at about 1 p.m. Wednesday and opened fire. Students and staff scrambled into classrooms to avoid the barrage of gunfire.

One suspect took hostages in a second-floor staff lounge. CKHS and Central Kitsap Junior High School went into lockdown as Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) and Washington State Patrol (WSP) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams arrived on scene and entered the building.

Although this was just a training scenario, local law enforcement will be better prepared, should an incident like this occur.

KCSO and WSP SWAT teams conducted a joint tactical training exercise involving active shooters at CKHS.

“We do these every year but Virginia Tech brought it up again,” said Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer.

Students, members of CSTOCK and others played the roles of hostages as two KCSO cadet advisors stormed the school as the suspects. This is the first time KCSO and WSP worked together on this type of training exercise.

“This is a great opportunity for us to train with state patrol and our negotiators,” said Kitsap County Sheriff’s Chief of Detectives and SWAT Administrator Dave White.

“We don’t often have a chance to train with other agencies.”

The training exercise provided another first for KCSO officers who had the opportunity to utilize the incident command post, an RV equipped with all the necessary tools to manage a hostage situation. The mobile command post was acquired by KCSO in 2005 through a Homeland Security grant. The $400,000 vehicle contains radios, televisions, satellite equipment and other electronics.

Before KCSO acquired the incident command post, SWAT teams often operated out of the trunk of a patrol car while managing hostage situations.

“That’s not an effective way to make important decisions,” Boyer said. “This (incident command post) is expensive but also a wise investment.”

Wednesday’s training exercise went smoothly and the SWAT teams apprehended one suspect while the other shot himself after he entered Central Kitsap Junior High School, according to the scenario.

“Today was pretty good,” said Sgt. Russ Clithero with KCSO SWAT. “It went really well.”

Once the hostages were out of the school, hostage negotiators interrogated them to determine what happened inside the building.

White said communication between the two agencies was a problem during the tactical training exercise and that was to be expected.

“There’s always communication issues when you work with two teams,” White said.

Clithero said the yearly training is important in preventing tragedies like those at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School.

“We can iron out the problems now and everything will run smoothly (if) the real thing happens,” he said.

In lieu of past school shootings, the KCSO and WSP SWAT teams train in local schools regularly to both prepare and better familiarize themselves with the inner and outer layouts of the school buildings.

“There is nothing more important to us than the safety of our students and staff,” said Central Kitsap School District Superintendent Greg Lynch. “These opportunities help us focus on goal No. 3 of our strategic planning goals, providing a safe and caring environment for our students and staff.”

During the simulation, White said if the scenario were real, there would be a school administrator constantly in the command center to help the SWAT teams with the design of the inner school structure.

“(School security guards) would be able to help us out with location and help us get to know the inside of the school,” White added. “(Although) portable (classrooms) don’t create too many (security) problems ... traffic and parents ... can be a challenge.”

Should an incident like this occur, the plan in CKSD involves alerting teachers and students via the school intercom system and announcing the lockdown. Teachers then close and lock their doors, draw the shades over the windows, remind students to remain quiet and have them move away from the doors and windows.

“This is the time to do (this training) so (administrators) know what we’ll expect of them,” said WSP SWAT Sgt. Chris Sweet.

CKSD Director of Operations Dirk Gleysteen said typically, before students and teachers are alerted, if there is a suspicious individual on the school campus, the principal will call the district office to alert them of the situation. He added the district is going to reexamine the lockdown process prior to the 2007-08 school year.

“(Security problems) happen differently and raise different issues that the previous plan doesn’t entirely cover,” Gleysteen added. “We need to take a look and we need to have an alternative to lockdowns,” Gleysteen explained. “So we have more than one (option) for response in the event of an (intruder) situation.”

Cayla Raymaker, a senior next year at Central Kitsap High School and student actor who participated in the school shooting simulation on Wednesday said she now feels safer if there was an actual shooting.

“It makes me feel ... and know what to expect if there is a school shooting,” Raymaker said, who was instructed to hide in a classroom until members of the SWAT team came and evacuated them out of the building. “The SWAT team told us to get on the ground ... and drove us (to the command center) by squad car where we were asked questions.”

CKHS protocol for a lockdown, similar to the district’s, will alert teachers via school intercom and continue the lockdown process. Cervinsky said although sometimes schools will get calls from other schools regarding a potential security threat rumor, administrators will often either call the sheriff’s office to confirm or request additional security from other schools.

“This exercise really opened my eyes and created awareness,” said CKJH Assistant Principal Susan Jung, who acted as an administrator in the simulation. “I hope nothing like this happens, but in the event that it does, we’ll be prepared.”

Jung added that all CKSD staff go through intruder drills throughout the school year, however, getting firsthand experience such as the simulation will help her to know what to look for in a dangerous situation.

“(Being prepared) will help alleviate the fears of the staff and students,” Jung said. “And let them know that the law enforcement is trained to (handle these scenarios).”

Megan Markle, who also participated as a student actor in the simulation, will be a sophomore at CKJH next year and said she now feels more safe going into a new school knowing the protocol if there was a shooter.

“It’s interesting for this to be one of my first times (at the school),” Markle added with a chuckle.

CKSD Spokeswoman Melanie Reeder said opportunities such as the simulation that took place at CKHS helps the school district and law enforcement partner together and increases preparedness.

“Anytime you have the opportunity to actively practice something,” Reeder said, “it makes it more real to you and gives you the confidence that a sound process is in place.”

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