SHERIDAN — Brian Pollard asked a room of about 30 Arvada-Clearmont K-12 School staff to close their eyes and imagine what they would do if a person walked through the door firing a gun.
Imagine the sounds and smells and walk yourself through how you would respond, TAC*ONE consultant Pollard said during an active shooter response training Friday.
Kailei Beam, Peityn Manor and Krista Malli heard screaming and yelling outside their classroom as a man with a gun walked through the halls of Arvada-Clearmont High School.
This time it was a simulation, but the high school students said they feel prepared if they were to have a real active shooter on campus in the future.
In 2019, 36,213 shooting incidents occurred and 433 children were killed or injured in those incidents in the U.S., according to the Gun Violence Archive. Twenty-two mass shootings have occurred in the U.S. in August alone.
School districts are dealing with the possibility of a community tragedy by preparing their students to actively respond to situations involving gunmen.
The three high school students, along with the rest of kindergarten through 12th grade students in the Sheridan County School District 3, were part of an active shooter simulation and training with TAC*ONE Consulting Thursday.
TAC*ONE offers active shooter response and tactical training for law enforcement, civilians and schools, according to their website.
Beam, Manor and Malli said the trainings helped them feel more prepared for an active shooter event. Without it, Manor said she wouldn’t feel as confident or prepared for the real thing.
“Like everything, practice makes perfect,” she said.
Joe Deedon, TAC*ONE consultant, said this training empowers students to be prepared for whatever scenarios they might face at school and in day-to-day life.
Deedon said the reaction from staff, parents and students has been overwhelmingly positive in all the school districts in which they’ve instructed the training.
Brian Pollard taught staff the moniker, “evacuate, barricade, fight,” at the school Friday morning. He said rather than an order of operations, it’s a wheel of potential response options depending on what’s appropriate.
Deedon said many trainings other organizations use are watered-down and don’t address the realities of encountering violence face to face.
Each of the instructors are former or current military or law enforcement officers, which gives them the required experience to teach these trainings, Deedon said.
By neglecting the possibility of necessary violence, other trainings prepare people to freeze, not react appropriately, Pollard said.
He said it’s important for people to have at least some experience and training so they’re ready to fight if necessary.
Pollard said it is important to dispel the myth that without training, people are capable of reacting with the appropriate response.
Part of the training for older students is learning to take someone down using body weight. Beam was one student who participated in this part of the exercise. Deedon said when Beam committed to the exercise, it felt like a fully-grown man took him to the ground.
Deedon said they avoid ineffective and lengthy acronyms that other trainings fall back on and instead try to instill people with a variety of effective response techniques, including using hands-on methods when necessary.
Still, Pollard taught staff “OODA loop” (observe, orient, decide, act) and E+R=O (event plus response equals outcome), to remember what options are available to them if they encounter a shooter.
Deedon said with the youngest students, kindergarten through second grade, the students learn how to shelter in place of how to evacuate as a group. Older students learn everything the younger students do, plus additional training.
Third- through fifth-graders learn how to help staff barricade the doors and group evacuation. Middle-schoolers learn how to keep a gunman on the ground using body weight and trapping limbs.
High school students also learn self-evacuation and decision-making skills with or without a staff member present, Deedon said.
Some people are unable to make decisions in a split second no matter what, so it’s important to have students be confident and prepared to make those calls, he said.
Beyond the possibility of a school shooting, these trainings prepare students for scenarios outside of school, like at a mall, sports game or at college.
This is the second year TAC*ONE brought their training to Clearmont. Students remember the last time they went through the training remarkably well, Deedon said.
Last year, some parents were concerned about potentially exposing students to unnecessary trauma, but after they watched the training or listened to their children talk about it, their concerns were assuaged, Deedon said.
Parents asked that the instructors come back and teach again this year, superintendent Charles Auzqui said.
Kris Malli has three children in Clearmont schools. She said her children raved about the trainings last year and this year.
Malli said these trainings should be in every school district because it gives students options for how to protect themselves inside and outside of school.
Even young students are acutely aware of the reality that they may encounter a shooting in a school or public area in their lifetime, Deedon said.
While the program is not mainstream for schools yet, Deedon said the team will be training a school district of about 1,200 students in Denver over several days next week. They have also trained students in Arizona.
“The program kind of sells itself when we get out there,” he said.
Still, Deedon said this kind of training is especially important in rural communities where emergency response and law enforcement are miles away.
Auzqui said the training helps their students and staff be more self-sufficient in the case of an emergency.
Deedon said any sort of legislation addressing gun violence will take decades to make it through the political process. No matter one’s perspective about the causes of shooting incidents or political views, these trainings prepare students to be ready in the meantime, he said.
Auzqui said last year about 30 parents came to the training to find out what was being taught to their kids. Part of what children learn is how not to be victims and to act, he said. Funding-permitting, he plans to continue the program.
“Our kids can’t live in a glass bubble,” he said.
Some people make themselves victims by remaining unaware of their surroundings, entrenched in their phones, for example, Pollard said. By maintaining a level of awareness, without being constantly paranoid, people are less likely to become a victim of a violent crime.
In trainings with law enforcement and security officers, Pollard said letting go on one’s ego is part of the challenge. A violent, “Rambo” response isn’t always what is necessary. Sometimes evacuating or barricading are much more useful responses.
Pollard encouraged staff to think beyond the battle directly in front of them, about the people that would inspire them to do what is necessary to make it out of a situation with a shooter alive.
“Give yourself permission to survive,” he said.