On Aug. 29, the Sequim High School auditorium played host to two sessions of a training seminar put on by Jesus Villahermosa, Jr. of Crisis Reality Training. School district staff and members of the community learned about how to better handle active shooter or active lethal threat situations.
“There’s no perfect plan for these situations,” said Villahermosa, who said that he retired from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department as a sergeant and member of their SWAT team several years ago.
“But there are better plans than what most school districts have now. Most of what schools teach and plan for since the 1950s is just going to put more people in danger.”
Much of Villahermosa’s presentation was focused on two things: dispelling decades’ worth of myths and misinformation and providing information that he says can save lives.
According to the ex-SWAT officer, issues start with how lockdown drills are performed at schools.
“We tell the teachers when the drill will be,” Villahermosa said. “So what do you do? When that class period starts, you lock your door, you put down your blinds, and you don’t let students leave before the drill.
“And what do I almost always see when I’m observing these drills? Teachers keep teaching their curriculum during the drill!”
Villahermosa said that lockdown drills need to be taken more seriously, recommending that teachers be told what day a drill will be, but not the time, and that they need to be handled like a real active threat situation.
He also said that more drills need to be done during passing periods between classes, as statistically shootings are more likely to happen then.
According to Villahermosa, a number of tactics often taught for dealing with active shooters or other threats are often outdated or just wrong. He said that things like turning out room lights, pulling fire alarms and hiding on the side of the room opposite the door have all been shown to add to potential casualties in past shootings.
Villahermosa also says that trying to keep students corralled and emphasizing things like staying on school grounds and roll calls are counter-productive and dangerous.
“If they want to run in a threat situation, let them!” Villahermosa said. “It’s the (Emergency Operations Command’s) responsibility to track them down, and they will. It’s not on the school district at that point, and trying to keep kids on-campus could put their lives at risk.”
He also said that asking students to behave civilly when confronted with a gunman or other active threat is a mistake.
“We need to stop thinking civilly during an uncivil event,” Villahermosa said. “The one and only focus once someone pulls a trigger should be survival, no matter what.”
The presentation also included a number of recommendations on more effective systems of initiating a lockdown such as blue LED lights specifically used for lockdowns, and a pre-recorded lockdown message for the PA system that can be triggered by any teacher calling a specific phone number and entering a short code (instead of relying on specific administrators to be on-hand, as many current systems require).
Members of the community were also told in an evening session of the seminar that it’s very important not to rush to a campus to check on their children.
“First responders need to focus on the situation,” Villahermosa said. “If people are coming to try and get to their kids, it’s going to split their attention and slow them down, and that could cost lives.”
Villahermosa and Crisis Reality Training also provide student assembly seminars to help better prepare students for the potential of these lethal situations, as well as site surveys for schools to assess their potential risks and areas they can improve on for security and incident response.
While the district doesn’t have Villahermosa scheduled to return to perform these services, plans are in the works to do so.
“We plan on bringing him in,” interim superintendent Rob Clark said on Aug. 30. “It just might not be as soon as we’d like. He’s a very busy man, we just have to get through the scheduling problem. Our goal is to have him back here before Thanksgiving.”
Dan Orr, assistant chief of Clallam County Fire District 3, was also in attendance of the staff training and appreciated what Villahermosa had to say.
“Trainings like this are long overdue in this part of the world,” Orr said.