Being prepared

Westfield Police Dept. working with school district to create better disaster scenario plans and active shooter situations 

Westfield Police Officer Tony Howard, right, and Police Chief Joel Rush walk down a Westfield High School hallway in search of the threat during an active shooter demonstration to teachers.

Westfield Police Officer Tony Howard, right, and Police Chief Joel Rush walk down a Westfield High School hallway in search of the threat during an active shooter demonstration to teachers.

During the last Friday of winter break, Westfield High School teachers returned to the school, but instead of preparing their classrooms for their students’ return, they were given a glimpse into the lives of local police officers as members of the Westfield Police Dept. provided a demonstration of an active shooter scenario.

“We don’t want to scare people or be paranoid. We just want to be prepared,” Police Chief Joel Rush said. “The goal is to mirror our plans together. They know our tactics and plan, and we’ll know their plans.”

Rush and school officials pointed out that the winter break demonstration was planned back in October, before the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“It shows even more the importance of demonstrations like this,” he said. “We’re not reacting to this; we’ve been training for years. We want to educate the school about what we are doing.”

Rush explained that the WPD frequently practices active shooter scenarios with the hopes that they’ll never have to put their plans in action. He said similar scenarios were held at Monon Trail Elementary School during fall break and Westfield Middle School during last summer.

“We encourage officers to go into schools and businesses to notice how they are laid out,” he said.

Jan. 4 was the first time the WPD had an audience during its practice sessions. Rush said the goal of the day was to provide teachers with insight and so they could hear the sound of a gunshot down the hall.

“It gets them to think a lot better,” he said. “When they hear a threat they should shut and lock the door, shut the lights off and have students hunker down.”

The demonstration provided teachers a glimpse into what an active shooter scenario looks like and officers explained their mindset when entering the situation – to get the shooter to engage them instead of innocent people.

“If it’s me, I’m going in after the threat,” Rush said, who added that previous tactics included waiting until SWAT teams arrived on scene. “We are trying to get right to the threat, which is the goal – get in as quick as you can and take the threat out, period.”

One of the biggest eye-openers was the speed at which a gunman could clear a classroom of 30. As Lt. Mike Seagrave walked into one classroom, out of sight from teachers, the sounds of gunshots and shells hitting the floor could be heard. An empty clip fell to the floor as Seagrave came back into the hallway and entered another classroom with a full magazine seconds later.

“People in Newtown called it a peaceful and quiet community,” WPD’s Kim Daniels, a school resource officer, said. “Everything people would say here about Westfield. You never know what is going to be the next community and that is why we are doing this.”

The demonstration allows teachers to think ahead – if this, then that, Daniels said.

“You’ll have that knowledge so you don’t hesitate,” she said. “We’ll have a plan in place until the shooters learn again, and we change it.”

Working with the school district is nothing new for the city’s public safety departments. To better prepare students and staff members, administrators create “authentic situations” during tornados and fire drills, such as blocking a hallway or exit, holding drills during passing periods or lunchtime, or removing students to ensure they are accounted for by teachers.

“We create plans for every different scenario,” Rush, whose a member of the school district’s safety committee, said. “Our school does a better job than most.”

“We’re getting to think outside the box, getting teachers to ask more questions so each person knows what their role is,” WHS Assistant Principal Alicia Denniston said.

Chris Baldwin, WWS executive director of human resources, said the district’s safety committee was being proactive during a never-ending process.

“Today gave teachers a visual of how they will respond – a feel for what are the options I have with my students,” he said.

Baldwin said the district had revised its plans after local events like the Martinsville shooting and the tornado in Henryville.

“After an unfortunate situation, we look at our plan, go a little bit deeper and make our plans better,” he said. “Following every situation, there’s something we didn’t think of in all scenarios.”