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South Valley Journal

District employees become active participants in school shooting simulation

May 07, 2018 01:52PM ● By Jet Burnham

Jordan District provided local assistant principals with eye-opening training in an active shooter simulation. (Photo courtesy Caleb Olson/Sunset Ridge Middle)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Local school administrators were armed and dangerous as they took the role of police officers in virtual reality active shooter scenarios. Forty Jordan School District employees, the majority assistant principals, were invited to the Utah Attorney General’s office for the simulation. The training provided a realistic experience as participants were immersed in 300 degrees of video display.

“I knew it was a projection; I knew it was on a screen, but it felt super life-like,” said Caleb Olson, Sunset Ridge Middle School assistant principal. “It was about two and a half minutes, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d said it was 25.”

Normally used to train police officers, the simulation placed participants into the action of a school shooting, a disturbance in a parking lot, a gunman loose in a movie theater and a shooting range. The filmed scenarios adapted to participants’ reactions and to their interactive weapons, creating hundreds of different twists and turns in the action.

 “It was like a choose-your-own-adventure novel,” said Buddy Alger, Silver Crest Elementary School assistant principal. “You really felt like you were there; you felt like you had to make decisions and talk to people.”

The assistant principals observed each other’s performance. Elk Ridge Middle Assistant Principal Spencer Campbell was surprised by some of the reactions of his colleagues.

“You saw a side of them that you wouldn't normally see,” he said. “Caleb [Olson] was more serious than I’d ever seen—usually Caleb is very funny and mellow.”

Amy Adams, Riverside Elementary School assistant principal, experienced a virtual hostage situation in which she hesitated to fire her weapon. 

“Until I saw him shoot, I thought he was still innocent—except that meant that somebody got hurt because of my hesitation,” she said. “I have a greater appreciation for police and the types of decisions they are required to make.”

Actual police officers were on-site to provide feedback about the choices administrators made and factors they had missed.

“That coaching aspect, after what really did feel like a real incident, would be invaluable to law enforcement and was really helpful for me,” said Alger. “It really helped me to slow down and evaluate how and why I make the decisions I do in all of my interactions.”

Olson was inspired to consider modifying how safety drills are run at his school.

“I’m not naive enough to say I’m prepared after having done two and a half minutes of training,” he said. “I realize it’s not always going to go smoothly. If something were to happen, it would not be a textbook scenario. We need to be flexible to respond.” He realized his school would be better prepared by varying some of the factors of the drills, like availability of exits, time of day and weather conditions.

The experience also reinforced the importance of sticking to assigned roles during emergencies.

“It was humbling to realize, in a crisis situation, what you think you might do, you don’t,” said Elk Ridge Middle Assistant Principal Michelle Kilcrease.

In one virtual scenario, a teacher approached the responding officers for help.

“While some people might be trying to be helpful in a crisis situation like that, it’s actually a big distraction,” said Kilcrease. “We’ve been trained on what to do, and it’s important to follow through with the training we’ve had so the officers can do their job.”

Kilcrease said she is grateful for these unified emergency plans the district has implemented. All schools conduct practice drills regularly with students and local first responders. There are established protocols to address a variety of emergencies such as fire, weather, violence, earthquake, bomb threat, power outage and reunification.

Jordan School District also provides in-depth emergency simulations for faculty members. Copper Canyon Elementary recently held a medical evacuation reenactment to practice working with medical first responders. Last year, an emergency simulation was staged at Alta High School, complete with actors and gory makeup. Elk Ridge Middle faculty has practiced drills with SWAT teams and has shown students a staged first-person account video reinforcing the importance of following procedure during a lockdown.

“It is an unfortunate reality that school shootings happen,” said Kilcrease. “We just want to keep the kids safe.”

Student safety is the ultimate goal of all the trainings, drills and simulations.

 Norma Villar of the Jordan District Safety Committee said they have established multiple community action board partnerships to address a variety of safety issues.

“We constantly explore areas where safety can be improved,” she said.