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Las Cruces Public Schools Teachers Train for Active Shooter Emergency

Michael Hernandez


What should teachers do if an active shooter is on campus? Las Cruces Police taught Las Cruces Public Schools educators the ALICE response: an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.

Teachers began with lockdown drills using standard procedures they already know. School resource officers played the roles of the shooters. Mesa Middle School Resource Officer Aaron Lazarin said ALICE training shows new approaches are needed during a real shooting.

“We wanted to show them how simply locking the door, turning off the lights and huddling your kids in the corner is not effective against an active shooter,” Lazarin said. “We wanted to show these doors can easily be jammed through, shot through, broken through and huddling your students in a corner is also making them more available and easier targets for the shooter.”

As part of the training, Las Cruces police officers simulated an active shooter situation by shooting NERF guns at teachers, who are taught to defend themselves by barricading the doors and throwing objects.

With less than 30 seconds to prepare, faculty and staff experienced multiple scenarios that forced them to act fast. Along with moving tables to barricade the entrance, teachers learned evacuation techniques and to use anything in the classroom as a weapon to fight the attacker.

Officer Lazarin said it’s important teachers experience as close to a real scenario as possible to know how to respond under pressure and that ALICE teaches them to be proactive rather than just waiting for police.

National response time is anywhere between five to six minutes. Here in Las Cruces you’re looking at anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute if that school doesn’t have a school resource officer present in the school,” Lazarin said. “That’s still 30 seconds to a minute that the teachers and the staff have to be proactive and do something more, do something more aggressive to keep them and their students safe.”

Sunrise Elementary fifth grade teacher Steve Minter said taking part in the simulations was an eye-opening experience for him.

“You never know how you’re going to react to a situation like that. Today I got the opportunity to find that out, you know, how I might react. I surprised myself a little bit which was good. I did a little more than I thought I might, but I think it’s within every teacher who’s got kids and is responsible for other lives to step in and do what they can to make sure that those kids don’t get hurt,” Minter said.

Teachers are asked to communicate what they’ve learned to their students and develop age appropriate safety plans. Laura Looney teaches first grade at César E. Chávez Elementary. She said it will take a lot of practice and discussion to pass on what she’s learned to her six-year-olds.

“It’s hard because today we practiced keeping them physically safe but then it’s also my job to keep them emotionally safe,” Looney said. “And so the discussions we have, you know, they’re going to be tough ones and we’ll have to deal with that. But in terms of me and my own classroom, I need to know what I’m capable of. How can I barricade the door by myself because you know six-year-olds can’t do that.”

Looney said while she feels more informed, ALICE training is just the beginning for her to take steps to protect her students. Her advice to others who undergo future training is to take it seriously.

It’s a very serious topic and it’s easy to get morose about. So, we tend to be lighthearted and we’re laughing during the scenarios and joking but to always keep in mind that our kids come first and it’s our job to keep them safe so we need to do whatever we can to keep them that way,” Looney said.

The federal government doesn't track school shootings, but the Washington Post does.  At the end of July, there had been 17 shootings in 2018, the highest number since 1999.  The Post found 215,000 students at 217 locations have been impacted by gun violence at school since the Columbine massacre. 141 people have been killed in those shootings, another 287 injured.

Las Cruces Public Schools has added 25 security guards at each of its elementary schools for the 2018-2019 academic year and another four guards to patrol nights and weekends. Officer Lazarin said Las Cruces Police hope to train faculty and staff at more events year-round.