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‘We can never be too prepared’: Sonoma County schools take part in active shooter training

Every active shooter situation is different, but in general, if an active shooter enters a school, Homeland Security recommends students and staff run if they can. If the shooter is too close, hide. As a last option, fight back.

Those responses were followed during two days of active shooter drills at Piner High School over the summer involving multiple first-responder agencies in the area that reported a positive learning experience to the Santa Rosa school board on Wednesday.

“We really learned through communicating with one another, which made the training that much better,” Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Rob Reynolds said in an interview.

School districts across the country re-examined safety procedures after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people. In Sonoma County, some districts are working with police and other first-responder agencies to train for an active shooter situation.

“I strongly support our schools as training sites. This is where the focus should be,” said Santa Rosa school board member Ed Sheffield. “Every time that we hear about a situation, the first thought that comes to mind is did it happen on school grounds? Were there children involved?”

Shootings in public spaces are a common occurrence in the United States, and can happen anywhere, Reynolds said.

“Times have changed, so unfortunately we have to train for these events,” Reynolds said. “The mindset is that we all prepare for this and hope that we never have to actually be involved in an incident.”

The two summer training sessions involved nearly 100 law enforcement workers in three scenarios: an active shooter, a suicidal subject and a surrender.

They had two months to prepare the training sessions, which had victims with fake injuries for first responders to identify.

“The more realistic the training, the better that the officers and firefighters are going to respond,” Reynolds said.

The Piner active shooter training sessions involved no students or staff, but the Santa Rosa school board was supportive of future sessions next year at other school sites to train students and staff, as well.

“That prepares you so when you work through the motions in a crisis you at least have a better sense of what you need to do,” said Santa Rosa board member Evelyn Anderson. “More practice is better.”

Healdsburg High School has an upcoming active shooter training session for faculty and staff, with police, on Oct. 8, a Monday students have off for staff development on Columbus Day.

Healdsburg Police ?Lt. Matt Jenkins said many schools are familiar with lockdown drills, where students and staff are instructed to hide, but the training session will be focused on the more active “run hide fight” response.

“It’s a paradigm shift for staff and faculty,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins also emphasized that shootings can happen even in seemingly safe public spaces.

“We always say, ‘It may not happen here.’ We’re in Sonoma County, we’re in Healdsburg. But the reality is, it can happen anywhere,” Jenkins said.

In the years leading up to the Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland was consistently ranked by the National Council for Home Safety and Security as one of Florida’s safest cities.

Similarly, Newtown, Connecticut - where ?20 first-graders and six staff members were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012 - is an affluent, suburban town often ranked one of the safest towns in the state to live in and raise a family.

“We can never be too prepared,” Jenkins said.

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or susan.minichiello@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @susanmini.

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