MINOOKA — At a recent safety in-service, teachers and staff at Minooka Grade School District 201 got a small taste of what it might be like if an armed intruder ever breached one of the school buildings.
The program was disturbing to most in attendance. It had to be that way to drive home the point that educators need always be on alert and think outside the box to keep themselves and their students safe.
After the shooting at Sandy Hill Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Minooka Grade School Superintendent Al Gegenheimer and Minooka police decided it was important to conduct an in-service to address the issue.
“It was not meant to alarm, not intended to shock or scare,” Gegenheimer said. “It was meant to (clarify) how important each role is in an emergency.”
While the school district has their own crisis management plan, which spells out how to address emergency situations, the plan might not always apply. Teachers need to have a Plan B.
Minooka Police Officer and Kendall County Special Response Team (SRT) member Ken Briley conducted the program. Briley is also the director of emergency management for the village of Minooka. One thing Briley did was show video footage of the Columbine High School shooting. No one except the presenters knew it was a re-enactment until it was over. Teachers needed to be in the right mindset, Briley said.
Later, he had participants close their eyes and picture their own classroom or work area exactly how it is. He mentally walked them through a scenario where a shooter gets into the school. Then he’s inside the classroom a gun.
“Running the scenario through their heads is mental preparation,” Briley said.
He wanted teachers to think about and envision what they might actually do if a situation occurred so it wouldn’t be the first time they ever thought about it, he said.
It was very powerful, said Melinda DiLorenzo, special education teacher at Minooka Grade School. “That was very emotional,” DiLorenzo said. “At that point, I cried.”
September 11 changed the way people respond to shooters, Briley said. People fight back, it’s better to do something than nothing.
“Take this personally, don’t be a victim,” he said. “You have to decide what you are going to do, have that plan in your mind.”
Briley discussed vital information, like the profile of an active shooter, things teachers should do in an emergency, what information to give when calling 9-1-1 and how things would play out when police and SRT members arrived.
Minooka Officer James Sinovich, a Kendall County SRT member, came out from behind a closed door suited up in his riot gear, armed with a rifle, showing teachers what they could expect to see.
There will be a lot of noise going on as they focus on locating and removing the shooter, Briley said. There will be lots of yelling and teachers may hear what’s called a flash-bang, with bright lights that mess with equilibrium.
“I am not going to be officer friendly,” he said. “Our job is to get to the shooter first.”
When Briley gets up each morning, he is in Code Green, a relaxed state.
When he leaves his house and puts on his vest, he automatically goes into Code Yellow. It’s a signal for both his body and his mind to be on alert. He begins taking mental notes of his environment.
In an emergency situation, he is in Code Red, he said.
“Where is your code yellow?” he asked the teachers.
“He opened our eyes to making us aware of our surroundings,” DiLorenzo said. “It’s not just in the school, it’s outside, like a block down. We have to notice things that look out of place.”
Teachers no longer have the luxury of just being teachers, DiLorenzo said.
“You shouldn’t have to be thinking about these things. Unfortunately, it’s the world we live in,” she said.
The program touched something in many teachers that they have been thinking about since Sandy Hill, but most have been leery to discuss out loud.
DiLorenzo and the other teachers at her table feel they are in an entirely different mental state now, she said.
Briley summed up the program with these words: “I wanted to do this exercise to mentally prepare you. I hope it never happens; I hope I never have to come into the building in Code Red.”