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Employees learn to defend schools

The last time Oregon Trail School District employees participated in emergency reaction training, it was largely an informational class. This year’s training session, held Aug. 29 at Sandy High School, involved more hands-on training from law enforcement, and has been updated since the Clackamas Town Center shootings.

Of the more than 70 participants, roughly half were there for the first time.by: POST PHOTO: NEIL ZAWICKI - Naas Elementary School Educational Assistant Kristi Robertson learns to  surprise and tackle an armed intruder, portrayed by Sandy Police Officer Bill Wetherbee. The exercise was part of an Aug. 29 training session designed to teach educators to think like law enforcement officers.

“We don’t want you to be sheep because sheep get killed, sheep get slaughtered,” said Armando Olmos, a Sandy police officer and the new school security administrator for the district. “We want you to think like a warrior and be aggressive and do whatever you can to take the intruder down.”

Olmos spoke to a group of 13 administrators, educational assistants and principals in the mat room of the high school gymnasium. This part of the three-hour training program is designed to show the trainees what it’s like to confront an aggressor with a weapon. Olmos and his colleagues gave demonstrations on take-down methods.

“We want you to surprise them before they surprise you,” said Nolan O’Meara, assistant security officer for Sandy High School. He instructed Kristi Robertson, an educational assistant with Naas Elementary, on the finer points of tackling a would-be assailant. In that instance, Officer Bill Wetherbee acted as the shooter. The game was to grab and overpower him as he came through the door. The idea, instructors said, is to throw the aggressor off his game, subdue and disarm him by whatever means available.

Of course, Wetherbee makes his living training to do such things, and he served in the military. Robertson is new to such activities; this was her first time.

What some may consider absurd — to have an elementary school worker try and tackle a violent intruder — is the intention of Sandy Police Chief Kim Yamashita.

“You guys are lovers, not fighters, right?” she asked the group. “I need you to accept the fact that might need to change.”

Yamashita wants the Kristi Robertsons of the world to think in this way: to act with surprise and violence if need be, but only as a last resort. Before that, she wants them to run, and between the two, she wants them to hide. It’s part of a three-pronged reaction regimen called, not surprisingly, “Run, Hide, Fight.”

“What we want from this is we want you to buy us a few minutes of time,” Yamashita said.

The goal for Yamashita is to create a level of preparedness that moves somewhere beyond panic, so school employees can act in ways that preserve safety and delay would-be killers until law enforcement arrives.

“Run, Hide, Fight” is meant to teach them to first escape the danger by any and all means. As a next resort — the “hide” option — people are instructed to barricade doors and stay out of sight, and subsequently out of gun sights. The final option is to confront the assailant. If that becomes necessary, Yamashita wants them to take no half-measures.

“I want you to have some responses in mind, so that you’re not thinking, ‘Oh, I need time to process and decide what to do.’ I hope the officers talked about committing 100 percent,” she said of the fight training.

“Look around this room. What can you use as a weapon? I can see a dozen ways I could kill somebody.”

While cops and school officials can train to react to such incidents, just how effective it can be in the eyes of the public is another question. Haley Moore, a 2013 Sandy High School graduate, said such training can be valuable.

“I think any advantage that they can give to the school officials is beneficial,” Moore said. “I can remember one Friday we had a rumor of a shooter at the school and nobody came to school that day, just because we had no confidence in our officials and the security there, so any new training would be good.”

Still others, including Rufus Bragg, an employee of the Estacada School District, said he does not think the training will help.

“As much as I hate to say it, I think Colorado and Texas have the right idea,” he said, referring to employing a team of armed guards at the schools. “We guard our money and our jewelry with guns, so why not do the same for our kids?”

Robertson said she likes this training more this time around because it’s more hands-on.

“If we didn’t have this kind of training, we would have no clue,” she said.

While the training, which included a table-top exercise to simulate an active shooter in the building, can go a long way toward mental preparedness, many in attendance expressed misgivings about the primary variable in the equation: the kids.

Yamashita mentioned a person in another group who said her school has new 6-foot fences, which essentially would prevent any escape in the event of an incident.

“The scariest thing for us is recess,” said Kelso Elementary School Principal Katie Schweitzer. “I mean, our playground is right out front, so if anyone wants to plan something, that’s when they’d do it. And I don’t know how many 5-year-olds can climb the 6-foot fence. I know I can, but I don’t know how many kids I can throw.”

Naas Elementary Principal Kimberly Brooks echoed this sentiment, and added the wrinkle of the new security technology working against her in an emergency.

“The most likely time is during recess and in the case of a lockdown our key cards are deactivated,” she said. “So when the kids start running for the school, which is natural, there they’d be piled up on the doors.”

Yamashita said she would like to work directly with teachers as well, and that she would like to devise emergency drills for the kids.

“I really believe the more we do and the better prepared we are, that we won’t have an issue,” she said.

“The odds of this happening are very small, but it’s going to be catastrophic if it happens and we’re not prepared.”