LORAIN -- Lorain Police SWAT and the district's school safety officers received training for an active threat situation at the high school Thursday afternoon.
The training simulated an active shooter situation at the high school, but School Safety Coordinator Reuben Figueroa, a former Lorain police officer, said the tactics would apply to any active threat, from a student with a gun, to someone with a knife or other weapon. While the school's safety officers would not normally actively engage in the threat, as they are not armed, they were trained to relay important information to SWAT members on arrival.
"I think it's imperative that SWAT and the Lorain City Schools work together just because of the national cases of school violence," he said. " Having (SWAT) here is a wonderful asset to the school district and having the safety team a part of that is a benefit for us, it's a blessing and it also teaches them the next steps on what the school safety and the future of school safety nationally."
The schools' 17 safety officers were trained to report suspects' last known location, brief description, type of weapon and the last time they were scene or heard in the building to the first officer on scene. Lorain police Sgt. Eric Manicsic said depending on the situation, SWAT members may take safety officers with them to help navigate the building and find the suspect faster -- but there would be a calculated risk to the individual involved as the SWAT team would then be responsible for their safety.
Manicsic said SWAT members have several tactics for taking the safety officers with them to help navigate or relay information while keeping them out of the line of any potential fire. The biggest asset for bringing that school personnel with them, he explained, is it allows them to move through the building quicker as that safety officer knows which building is which -- rather than SWAT members trying to read a map and risk getting lost. SWAT member Officer Juan Rodriguez noted every five to 10 seconds a person is shot when a shooter is active, so the faster SWAT members can neutralize the threat, the more lives can be potentially saved.
Broken up into groups, teams ran simulations for handling an active shooter in the 300 hallway of the third floor of the B building -- which is where the majority of academic classrooms are on the campus. In these simulations, two safety officers were in the hallway and had milliseconds to turn and get a brief description of the "shooter" -- a SWAT team member -- before diving into a nearby classroom and barricading the door. They then had to communicate that information by calling another safety officer on their cell phone, who then led two SWAT members into the building to neutralize the threat. All the while, the shooter was firing blanks, the loud pops echoing to keep safety officers adrenaline surging and make the situation more realistic. Figueroa said using the cell phones instead of officers' radios was meant to make the simulation harder, as oftentimes communications lines are the first to go in a real emergency.
Running the simulation over and over again, Manicsic said in the final debriefing he could see the difference between teams that had good communications, including those that gave an accurate description of the shooter and his location, versus those that didn't. He also noted different SWAT team members approached utilizing the safety officers differently, with some leaving the officer in the stairwell, while others kept them between the two SWAT members, receiving information from them while shielding them from any potential danger.
Figueroa said the district is working with SWAT to plan other simulations, including eventually one with response from police, fire and LifeCare ambulance. These are in addition to the regular lock down drill teachers and students go through throughout the school year.
The tactics staff learned Tuesday are the same used throughout the district, Figueroa said, from the elementary buildings to high school. When the buildings run drills during the school year, the tactics students learn are also the same and recently gave Figueroa a new perspective, as his son was a preschooler last year.
"Of course these kids are as important to me as if they're my own," he said. "But having my child here also means he comes home and says 'Dad, we did a tornado drill' or 'Dad, we did a lock down drill today.' And that brings it home for me and shows that I really have a direct line of desire and passion to make these policies, drills and procedures work."