For staff at the Juneau School District, thoughts of life-threatening disasters are a daily consideration.
In the wake of a mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday, JSD Chief of Staff Kristin Bartlett said the school district staff thinks every day about ways to protect students from incidents like that.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been thinking a lot about this in the last couple weeks,” Bartlett said, “as we watch what’s happening with schools around the country and dealing with natural disasters and dealing with all kinds of other issues. It’s definitely something that we think about every day here.”
The nonprofit Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot and/or killed in a single incident at the same general time and location, not involving the shooter. By that definition, Alaska hasn’t had a mass shooting since six people were wounded in an early-morning shooting on Sept. 14, 2014 in Anchorage.
Law enforcement officials in Juneau would like to keep it that way. Lt. David Campbell of the Juneau Police Department said officers are constantly preparing for an active shooter scenario.
“We get trained all the time,” Campbell said. “It’s one of those worst-case scenarios for us, a low-frequency, extremely high-risk situation that we train for.”
What an officer does in the case of a shooting and what a civilian does, Campbell pointed out, are very different. Civilians must be prepared to get out of harm’s way and alert others of the situation.
JPD and the City and Borough of Juneau’s Emergency Management Department have worked extensively with JSD, Bartlett Regional Hospital, University of Alaska Southeast and even local business owners to prepare for a scenario of an active shooter.
Bartlett said there’s a flip chart located in every classroom and office in the district with instructions and plans, and that staff members all get training before the school year begins. Students then also receive training about how to respond. Bartlett also said JSD has taken measures in recent years to make access to schools more difficult, including limiting the number of entrances and having a stricter policy in terms of who can enter schools.
A new approach
The training system that is taught to civilians across town is known as ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. CBJ Emergency Program Manager Tom Mattice said that the city’s approach for a long time was going into lockdown mode, but that simply hiding wasn’t good enough. In 2015, CBJ and JPD began doing ALICE training for schools and the public.
Mattice explains the ALICE protocol by saying that it’s not a step-by-step approach. If you can evacuate, do that immediately, he said. If there’s no option to evacuate, you might have to lock yourself away and hide. If you come face-to-face with the assailant, you might have to counter — that is, figure out a way to buy time or disorient the shooter.
Alerting others and informing the community are also important in an emergency scenario. Bartlett said that the school district has a mass notification system that keeps parents and staff in the loop in the case of an emergency. There are no code words or phrases, as it’s key to use simple, clear descriptions about where an assailant is and what he or she looks like.
Like any other emergency scenario, Mattice said it’s important to have a plan in place. Staking out evacuation routes in advance and having a group text set up with family members or co-workers to expedite communication are good ideas. Mattice also said it’s beneficial simply to envision emergency scenarios while at work or home or any other commonly-traveled place.
This year to date, UAS Emergency Management Planner Matthew Ziemer has done five small-group training sessions so far this year for an active shooter scenario at the university. According to the university’s Hazard Vulnerability Analysis (HVA), the university is more prepared to deal with a shooter now than it was in early 2016, when Ziemer arrived.
One of the changes the university made recently was to institute an improved emergency notification system. With this system, someone can pick up any campus phone, dial 5500 and record a brief message. As soon as the person hangs up, a campus-wide alert will be played through the speaker on every campus phone to alert others.
UAS Public Information Officer Keni Campbell said there’s never been an active shooter at UAS, and Ziemer said there are other potential emergencies that are higher on the HVA list of threats than a shooter. Still, the nature of an active shooter scenario puts it at the forefront of Ziemer’s mind.
“Even if we were to push the risk (priority) for an active shooter down to almost nothing,” Ziemer said, “I would almost certainly have to devote a certain amount of my time to it, it being what it is, the kind of super, super high consequence event that it is.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.