Stricter gun control could help a little. Better care for the mentally ill could help a little too. Armed guards at entrance of where people gather might help. Banning violent video games and encouraging prayer in schools might help. A total and complete shift in how our society views everything would probably do the trick – but that could take a few generations.
Sadly, most believe, if someone wants to do what Nikolas Cruz did in a Florida high school on Feb. 14 there is little any legislative body or school board policy that will stop it. And, it just doesn’t apply to schools, though the mass murder of children is particularly hard for a psyche to digest.
“This is becoming the new norm. It has come to the point where we have to be prepared to encounter an active shooter and we have to know what to do,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple. “Knowing what to do – how to get out of a building safely and what weapons are available to use – could save your life.”
The Sheriff’s Department offers training for businesses and schools in how to prepare for an active shooter situation. The classes can last two to four hours and rely on three very basic, almost instinctive, principals: “Run, Hide, Fight.”
In December, the Sheriff’s Department gave a training seminar at Saint Ambrose for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. Three-hundred people attended.
“We want to make sure we do everything we can to be aware and know our employees have the best tools,” said Mary Deturris Poust, the director of communications at the diocese. “We don’t think we are a more likely target but we are certainly not immune so it is better if people are prepared and know what to look for and how to respond.”
She said since every property is different the diocese is encouraging each parish and school to host the sheriff or other law enforcement agency and hold their own training.
“The sheriff was fantastic. He wants to train people,” she said. “They are informative without being overly upsetting and our staff responded really well.”
While the classroom settings do help, he said, when it comes to a school, the best tool at his disposal is the life-like simulation of an active shooter like the drill conducted at the Clayton A. Bouton High School in Voorheesville last year.
“We had EMS and police and role players and we were shooting off cap guns and tried to do everything that could happen in such an event and that is the best way to teach people what they should do,” he said. “You can sit in a classroom and watch the government movie and feel all warm and safe but you can’t get the stress component, or feel what it’s like when the adrenaline kicks in.”
While he would like to conduct such active shooter drill at schools throughout Albany County, it is an expensive and a logistically complex endeavor to pull off. But, the basic skills of surviving an active shooter — “Run, Hide, Fight” —are discussed on a video produced for Apple’s office and emulated nationwide.
Run, Hide, Fight
That is the order of what anyone who finds themselves in an active shooter situation.
• Run: Always try to escape or evacuate, even when others insist on staying. Encourage others to leave with you, but don’t let them slow you down with indecision, according to the video.
• Hide: If you can’t get out, the next best option is to hide — and don’t forget to silence the ringer on your cell phone — and then do your best to remain calm and quiet.
• Fight: Finally, if there are no other options: “Act with aggression. Improvise weapons. Disarm. And commit to taking the shooter down, no matter what.”
A combination of an all-out simulation and the video training is the most cost-effective and practical way to teach active shooter response preparations and there are three schools signed up over the next week to present the course to students.
“What we like to do is take our active shooter training and the reality based drill and go to people’s home bases rather than sit down in a place like the TU Center,” he said, looking around his office and quickly noting he has a memorabilia baseball bat and a flag pole handy to use as weapons if it came down to it. “People are more comfortable and the lessons learned are so much more useful if they are taught on their own turf.”
Armed school guards
Every time a shooting like last week’s at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, happens, debates rage over how to stop such a thing from happening again.
One that came to the forefront since it did happen at a school rather than a concert or a mall, is over armed guards or police officers at the schools.
Apple, though, while adding it wouldn’t hurt, said it’s not the answer and not as effective as each student being personally prepared.
“The cops can’t be everywhere,” he said. “Look at the Shen campus, for example. There is no way one cop or even six cops can patrol that entire campus if someone is on a mission. He or she would not be the person who puts an end to something like this.”
Colonie Lt. Bob Winn said there is a full-time school resource officer at the Colonie High School but not one at Shaker High School, even though the department did offer. The department does have three other DARE/community services officers that are assigned to all the schools in both district and the parochial schools too.
“We participate in on-going training and planning with the schools in regards to emergency management/planning, which includes active shooter training,” Winn said. “Our department also provides response to active shooter training to any business, group or organization that requests it.”
North Colonie Superintendent Joseph Corr, in a letter to district parents, said “staff and faculty consistently go through safety and security trainings, and our student routinely practice numerous types of safety and security drills.”
“An emergency situation is something we in North Colonie work every single day to try and prepare for and ultimately prevent,” he said.
In South Colonie, Superintendent Jonathan Buhner in a letter to parents said the district is currently expanding digital surveillance cameras, doors with buzz-in systems installed and training staff in crisis management.
“These horrible situations like Florida do not develop overnight,” he wrote. “We believe in getting to know every child and making sure we are providing support and interventions early and often is just as important as all the physical plant protocols.”
Just peek at Facebook or any social media website or any editorial in any given newspaper and the subject of gun control is bound to pop up if not dominate.
On the one side there are those who think more gun control would prevent shootings and on the other, there are those of the belief that guns don’t kill people — people do.
“There are millions of guns in this country and there is no way we are going to get rid of all of them so let’s deal with the safe storage and safe handling of these weapons,” Apple said. “And let’s talk to the kids on how to safely use them and respect them. Let’s explain the process to our kids and keep the damn things locked up. People can be killed with cars, and hammers and knives so no, I am not a fan of more gun control.”