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School participates in active shooter drill

Polo Police Sergeant Sean Knight and Rock Valley College Police Chief Joe Drought demonstrate how to take down a gunman if a physical altercation occurs. Photo by Chris Johnson
Polo Police Sergeant Sean Knight and Rock Valley College Police Chief Joe Drought demonstrate how to take down a gunman if a physical altercation occurs. Photo by Chris Johnson

Blanks were fired, books were thrown and police officers were wrestled to the ground during an exercise Dec. 11 at the Polo High School.

"Shootings can happen anywhere," said Rock Valley College police chief Joe Drought. "We need to develop plans on how to respond."

Knowing what to do during an active shooter event can help reduce the loss of life, he said.

Faculty, staff, and school officials in the Polo School District participated in the active shooter drill.

"I applaud Polo for wanting to do this training," Drought said.

While direct confrontation with a shooter is not preferred, Drought said it may be necessary to prevent further loss of life.

"Fighting back is an option to help save lives," said Drought. "Since Sandy Hook there is more interest in learning how to deal with these situations."

One year ago a lone gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown Conn. and killed 20 students and six adult staff members. Since that tragedy, school districts across the United States have been taking measures to prevent a similar incident from occurring.

"During the class, the teachers and faculty will learn practical measures they can take during an active shooter situation," said Drought.

They include how to barricade a classroom, the best ways to flee the school, and how to fight back if needed.

Drought said Rock Valley College has been offering these classes for five years.

The course, titled Practical Responses to Active Shooters, required everyone to learn about active shooters and to get hands on demonstrations during the drill.

"Our primary objective is to survive," said Drought. "We are going to be firing blanks today because people ask what a gun sounds like. Blanks are as close as we can simulate to a real shooting without real bullets."

The training instructs participants on how to a defend themselves or the life of another including the use of deadly force, Drought said.

"You need to ask yourself 'what if,'" said Drought. "You need to prepare mentally."

Drought said part of preparing is getting rid of any thoughts that an incident "can not happen here."

"It can happen here, but hopefully we can prevent it," said Drought.

Two days after the class was held in Polo there was another school shooting in Colorado on Dec. 13.

"The purpose of this class is to build a database or plans. If we are prepared we can find ourselves acting instead of panicking," he said.

The responses available in a school include evacuation, lock down, prepare to fight back, and how to respond when the police arrive on the scene, Drought said.

"Can you lock the door?" said Drought. "Think about it. You can then barricade the door with heavy desks from the classroom. What do you do if a shooter enters the classroom?"

Many objects in the classroom can be used as projectiles to throw at a gunman to try and distract them to enable people to evacuate the room, or disarm the shooter.

The faculty were provided wrapped books that they could throw at a target.

At first the staff in one classroom was timid at wanting to throw a book, but after the first book was thrown everyone in the classroom was ready to take their turn.

They also had the opportunity to swing a computer keyboard at the target.

After these two drills, Polo Police Sergeant Sean Knight volunteered to be a practice gunman the staff could wrestle to the ground.

Drought and Knight demonstrated in slow motion one technique that can be used to bring a gunman to the ground and secure the weapon.

The gun should not be picked up but secured by having someone stand over it with their hands raised in the air.

Drought said that when police arrive in the classroom, one person should be designated to quickly tell the officer who the shooter is and where the weapon is.

The staff was enjoying the demonstrations, but realized they were learning about a serious subject.

School Board President Gene Schmidt took part in the drill.

"We learned a lot but it raises questions as we move forward," said Schmidt. "This is just the beginning in a process."

As a district, safety has been improved. All the buildings have been secured and visitors need to be buzzed into the building.

"There is more to do," he said. "Drills let everyone practice. What does a gun shot sound like? It was an eye opening experience."

Schmidt said the next safety meeting in the district should be interesting when the faculty bring their questions from the drill to the table.

"I am not naive enough to say it can't happen in Polo," said Schmidt. "Having people participate in the drill was interesting. I never thought about holding the gun to have it pointed at the floor."

Having the police department participate in the drill demonstrated the continuing relationship between the school and police department.

"We are lucky to have the police department involved in our schools," said Schmidt. "I felt this was a program everyone needs to do."

Board member Kellie O'Leary Call also participated in the drill.

The Polo and Milledgeville Police Departments participated in the drill.

"Hopefully it never happens but the school now has some ideas of what to do," said Polo Police Chief Dennis Christen. "It was good training and well received."

Oregon School District held similar drills at all three schools earlier this fall.

Those drills were also coordinated through the Rock Valley College Police Department.

Forrestville Valley School District will hold a drill Jan. 2 in cooperation with the Ogle County Sheriff's Department.

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