Put to the Test
Jun 1, 2006 12:00 PM, By Erin Semple
At 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 22, 2003, a distraught 16-year-old student pulls out a 9mm handgun during his science class at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, Wash., shoots a hole in the wall, and demands that the teacher and students leave the room.
“It was the lunch hour and the school was packed with more than 2,000 students eating lunch in the hallways — a tradition at this school,” says Joseph Madsen, director of safety and risk management for Spokane Public Schools. “Normally, chaos would break out at this point.”
Instead, the school successfully evacuated every student and responded to the incident with the help of a statewide crisis management system (CMS) — literally deployed days before the incident. The school-wide evacuation took just 14 minutes, and the process was nearly completed when the first officers on the scene rushed into the building and cornered the student in the third-floor classroom.
“They find the shooter as fast as they can and either contain the shooter or eliminate the threat,” says former police chief Roger Bragdon. “The shooter's first words to the officer were ‘you got here too fast.’”
“With all the students safely evacuated, the roads blocked off, and the gunman isolated to a single location, it became a waiting game between the police and the gunman,” Madsen says. “Unfortunately, the gunman chose to provoke the SWAT team, who were forced to fire in self-defense.”
The wounded student was quickly evacuated by waiting paramedics to a nearby hospital, where he eventually survived his wounds.
The incident demonstrated the benefits of the Rapid Responder statewide crisis management system (CMS), which is designed to protect public buildings. The all-hazards application provides police, fire and other first responders with mission-critical information about public buildings. It gives them instant access to more than 300 site-specific data points, including tactical plans, floor plans, satellite and geospatial (GIS) imagery, interior and exterior photos, staging areas, hazardous materials quantities and locations, utility shut-offs and evacuation routes.
The technology puts together maps, phone numbers and other useful information for first responders.
“The Web-based software gives the decision-makers and responders instant information,” says Jim Finnell CEO of Prepared Response Inc., Seattle, the company that developed Rapid Responder. “It is easy to use. You can input the maps yourself. During the incident in 2003, the pre-mapping was useful, because it was just fingertips away.”
On that day, while office staff called 9-1-1, Jon Swett, principal of Lewis and Clark High School, responded with his district resource officer (DRO) up an ornate wooden stairway to the third floor, where the student had barricaded himself in a corner classroom. Procedure called for a lockdown, but they decided to pull the fire alarm. More than 2,000 students exited the school to pre-assigned relocation points.
Madsen, meanwhile, mobilized his staff of safety officers via mobile phone and fell in behind police cars speeding toward the high school. Using Rapid Responder, a DRO at another district school accessed the program via laptop computer. The crisis response software displayed an overview of the school and the floor plan of Room 307 where the gunman was barricaded. The DRO called police dispatch and began to relay information about the layout and the gunman's location to arriving officers.
At Lewis and Clark, officials set up a command post in a vacant classroom and brought up the Rapid Responder program on a nearby computer. The program can be accessed via the Internet, via a network, or through a portable USB storage device carried by DROs and first responders. Police, fire and emergency services in the Spokane area all adhere to the Incident Command System. “In 12 minutes we responded, contained the shooter, and evacuated the school. I was in the command post, and I couldn't believe it,” Bragdon says. “Every question we had and every contingency we had to plan for was answered by the Rapid Responder system.”
Then the SWAT team positioned themselves outside of Room 307 where the gunman was barricaded. Back at the command post, officials used Rapid Responder to access the floor plan and saw that Room 307 and Room 305 were connected by an internal doorway. When the opportunity presented itself, the SWAT team blocked the doorway to isolate the gunman to the single classroom.
“By pre-planning for this type of event, and using the Rapid Responder program during the actual incident, we were able to contain the shooter within 12 minutes, quickly block off all access to the school and the freeway and safely evacuate more than 2,000 students within 20 minutes,” Madsen says. “More importantly, with the students offsite during the actual shooting, they were spared the psychological trauma of having to hear or see a fellow student being subdued by police. As a result, we were able to quickly repair the physical damage and reopen school the next morning. With psychologists available to counsel the students, we were able to regain some semblance of normalcy within a short time.”
Prepared Response Inc., developers of the Rapid Responder program, is an outgrowth of lessons learned following the Columbine High School shooting tragedy in April 1999. The company builds, provides and maintains the Rapid Responder system used by the school districts and public safety responders, and provides training and consulting to assist in developing emergency preparedness plans, data collection and implementation. For information, visit www.preparedresponse.com.
*Senior editor Paul Rothman contributed to this story.
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