The Columbine Effect: What Police and Schools Have Learned - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News


The Columbine Effect: What Police and Schools Have Learned


DENVER - Ever since Columbine, school officials have been taught to write emergency response plans and practice them, to lock down schools and evacuate when it appears safe. Law enforcement officials' training has gone through a much more significant evolution.

On Wednesday, it led to what a school safety expert called a "textbook" response to a hostage situation at a small-town Colorado high school. A girl and the gunman died, but hundreds of other students were whisked to safety.

"We got them out," Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener said. "That was our important thing, to get the kids out."

The gunman took six girls hostage at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey but released four of them. He still had two girls cornered in a classroom when he cut off negotiations.

That left authorities will little choice but to pursue what Wegener described as a "tactical solution." When authorities entered the school, the sheriff said, the gunman shot and fatally wounded one of the girls and then killed himself.

Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services consulting firm in Cleveland, said responses by school and law enforcement officials appeared to closely follow training programs developed after the 1999 Columbine massacre, where two student gunmen killed 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves.

"From afar, it appears to have played out in a textbook manner," said Trump, who followed news of the incident and listened to Wegener's news conference.

Law enforcement officers who once were taught to set up a perimeter and wait for SWAT teams to show up are now trained in "active shooter" programs that call for the first officers on the scene to enter the building and work as quickly as possible to locate the gunman, Trump said.

"That means in those situations, they're trained to walk past injured people on the floor," Trump said. "You continue on to neutralize the shooter so that you can save additional people from being injured and killed.


"That was a huge shift and many schools and public safety officials across the country worked on opening up schools on nights and weekends for training."

It was not immediately clear what kind of training or planning occurred at Platte Canyon. School officials were working with law enforcement and not available for comment.

In a news conference, Wegener said his officers had been through "active shooter" training and had trained for such incidents.

"That's why we were able to isolate it to just one room and get everybody else out," he said. "Still, you can't prepare for something like this. You do the best you can."

Student Zach Barnes, 16, said students last year practiced drills for emergencies including a gunman in the school. Students were told to remain calm, taught where to go and how to leave the school. Still, there appeared to be at least one glitch Wednesday.

"We were sitting there in math class and over the intercom they said, `Students and teachers, we have a code white, repeat code white,' and nobody really knew what a code white was," Barnes said.

He said his teacher pulled a sheet of paper from her desk, checked it and then herded her students into a nearby classroom that had a solid door. After about 25 minutes, a police officer led them into the hallway and out of the school.

Mark Wilson, a music teacher at the adjoining Fitzsimmons Middle School - which was also evacuated - said not all teachers and school employees have been trained in handling emergencies. But he said he knew when he heard the words "code white" that a real emergency was under way. He said the evacuation went smoothly and that he never felt threatened.

Associated Press writers Catherine Tsai and Chase Squires contributed to this report from Bailey.

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