On the morning of Friday, Oct. 11, members of the ILEAS Mobile Field Force conducted school-shooter training exercises at the Harrisburg schools. The Southern Illinois Response Team of the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System practiced the tactics and procedures that would be used in the event of a school-shooter scenario in Harrisburg.
Under the command of Kyle Anbule, a sergeant of the Salem Illinois police department, the team of police officers conducted a practice exercise with the teachers and staff playing the part of students. At Harrisburg Middle school, Vice-Principal Randy Smithpeters gave the faculty a brief description of the exercise in the media room before sending them to their assigned classrooms to await rescue by police.
The Response team cleared the media room first, as it would be used as the "safe room" and then proceeded to secure and clear several classrooms on the upper floor of the school. The team moved with lethal grace down the halls, with one officer continually monitoring the area behind them. Upon opening the door to a classroom, loud shouts of "Police, Don't Move, Police" rang out in the still of the corridors and classrooms. As each room was cleared, the team moved the teachers to the media safe room and proceeded to the next classroom.
The training was a much-discussed topic of Tuesday meeting of the Harrisburg school board.
Principals said teacher and administrator reactions to a school shooter training as part of Friday's teachers' institute day was profound.
"It was an eye-opening experience for our teachers," East Side Principal Scott Dewar said.
Middle School Principal John Crabb said one troubling lesson learned was that gun shots in the hallway from behind a closed door can sound remarkably similar to a locker door slamming shut. After the drill the staff gathered in the Middle School Library for a briefing from Harrisburg Police Chief Bob Smith.
"Bob Smith talked to us a little bit about options. Then he went to different parts of the school and fired blanks and asked how many did he have," Crabb said. "He fired four shots and only one sounded like a shot. Some sounded like a book dropping or a locker slamming shut."
He said of the four shots only the one in the hallway just outside the library sounded like a gunshot.
Dewar agreed. At East Side School he recognized only two of the shots as gunshots. That means there is a possibility a shooter could be in the building firing shots and some in the building would be oblivious.
Crabb said the schools face a dilemma of conflicting information from police and the Illinois State Fire Marshal's Office regarding windows. Smith said the windows should have blinds that can be closed, but the Fire Marshal said to keep windows clear for egress in case of a fire. Crabb said a policy may have to weigh the risks and may take into account the few national incidents of school fires with children in classrooms versus the number of shooter situations schools have endured.
Page 2 of 2 - West Side Principal Kim Williams said it is a challenge to remain prepared for all emergencies, but schools should keep options open.
"We want to try to prepare for all these to happen; you can't just prepare for one thing and put all your eggs in that basket," Williams said.
High School Assistant Principal Randy Smithpeters was credited by the board as the organizer of the training and he passed appreciation along to the Saline County Sheriff's Office and Harrisburg Police who set aside a morning for the schools.
"We appreciate their help, their time, their guidance and their ideas," Smithpeters said.
Saline County Sheriff's Deputy Jerod Campbell stated that the Southern Illinois Response Team was equipped and trained to handle any type of emergency from a natural disaster to a weapons of mass destruction attack and was one of the teams equipped with NBC or nuclear, biological and chemical warfare suits that would enable them to operate in the type of conditions that would exist in the event of an attack with weapons of mass destruction.