IGNACIO – Law enforcement and emergency responders practiced what they would do if a shooter targeted the Ignacio School District – with school staff joining in on the exercise for the first time.
It was a drill, not an actual shooting incident, that brought the nation’s conversation about shootings home to Ignacio. Nationally in 2019, four active shooters have targeted schools, according to the Department of Homeland Security data. Schools experienced the most active shooters since 1970 in 2018, with 11 shooters nationwide. Thursday’s drill prompted an underlying tension for some staff members, but in the end, it was helpful for staff and first responders alike.
“People were on edge. I know my heart was beating really fast,” said Angie Ballew, a sixth grade language arts teacher playing a “teacher” role during the drill.
The drill scenario required law enforcement to neutralize the shooter (by firing blanks), other first responder agencies to treat “victims,” school staff to follow emergency lockdown protocols and a reunification procedure away from the school.
Most active shooters – 93 since 1970 – have targeted high schools, mostly during the school day, according to DHS data. DHS defines an active shooter as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.
At Los Pinos Fire Protection District in Ignacio, incident command for the drill, officials from the Southern Ute Police Department, Ignacio Police Department, Los Pinos Fire, the school district and more watched a split screen showing a live feed from multiple school cameras.
Around 9 a.m., the officer playing the shooter entered the school and fired his first shots. For more than 10 minutes, none of the cameras on the incident command screen showed the shooter – a glitch due to internet speeds.
In the school, some teachers didn’t hear the shots. One said the blanks sounded like firecrackers and that a few teachers didn’t realize the drill had started. By around 9:50 a.m., the first teachers began exiting the building to go to the reunification area, signaling that law enforcement had “terminated” the shooter.
Law enforcement and emergency response agencies have been planning the drill for two years and holding their own training. But for some staff members, it’s a new experience.
“This is kind of an eye-opener for them,” Crume said. “Hopefully, it’ll calm some of their fears.”
The purpose of the drill was for each drill participant to practice teamwork, to identify possible problem areas in the emergency response, to improve efficiency and to give teachers an opportunity to understand his or her role in a simulated, but stressful, environment.
“I personally was worried that I might get a little emotional because when we come to school, these are our kids,” Ballew said. “We take this seriously. We know that because teachers have given their lives for their students.”
At the debriefing after the drill, representatives and officials from the state, county and local levels shared challenges and successes. They analyzed every detail, including noting whether SUPD had keys to the middle school and assessing radio reception.
“We thought we were going to fail, didn’t we?” said Jim Spratlen. There were 120 people, multiple departments and a complex response. “We knocked it out of the park.”
School staff also felt the event was a success.
“It’s been wonderful. I’m glad we did this, and I’m glad we understand what our roles are,” said Brian Crane, technology director and school district public information officer for the drill.
“I hope we never need it.”
Staff and responders will continue to practice the active-shooter drill, soon with students involved. For Angie Ballew, the school could do even more lockdown drills than fire drills.
“The goal for me personally is just to be prepared in such a way that when that adrenaline starts, that I have done this so many times that I know exactly what to do,” Ballew said
“It’s time for a new mindset,” she said. “Active shooters are everywhere. And that’s just sad.”