Heather Nellis/Recorder staff George Marshall of the National Center for Security and Preparedness leads a training workshop for staff of the Greater Amsterdam School District Friday at the high school.
Heather Nellis/Recorder staff Amsterdam Police Det. Lt. Kurt Conroy, left, talks to George Marshall of the National Center for Security and Preparedness during a training workshop for staff of the Greater Amsterdam School District Friday at the high school.
By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- Staff of the Greater Amsterdam School District received a presentation Friday intended to increase awareness about school shooting preparedness and prevention.
Superintendent Thomas Perillo said it's a response to the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and will be incorporated in the district's annual update of its school safety plans.
Perillo told staff it would be "naive" to think violence of that magnitude could never happen at Amsterdam schools, and national incidents have highlighted the necessity of preparedness.
"Active shooter situations are unpredictable, and evolve quickly. They require people on the scene to be prepared both mentally and physically while waiting for law enforcement to arrive. One of the factors at Sandy Hook was that staff were trained to prepare for an emergency of this type, and the results we saw were far less than what would have occurred without that training."
George N. Marshall, representing the National Center for Security and Preparedness, talked about ways of identifying potential dangers, and recognizing behaviors that raise red flags.
To do that, Marshall reviewed historic school shootings, and what authorities have learned from those instances.
Much of his review illustrated the importance of communication between all stakeholders, from administration, to teachers, to students, to custodians, to law enforcement.
He first reviewed the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, when two teens opened fire in the school cafeteria and victimized 34 people, killing 13. Marshall said the teens plotted maps and timed head counts while sitting in the cafeteria prior to the incident.
"This is an observable behavior. This is behavior we could have detected. Can you imagine if prior to April 20, 1999, a custodian who was cleaning up at the end of a shift came across a map, a blueprint? This is why everyone is invested. It's incumbent upon them to recognize concerning behavior."
To further illustrate his point, Marshall reviewed the 2007 Virginia Polytechnic Institute campus shooting. He said multiple campus officials and law enforcement had prior troubles with the shooter, but none of them had knowledge of each other's dealings with him.
Marshall said it's possible to recognize the warning signs of individuals who might resort to violence by recognizing potential warning signs and concerning behavior. He also advised staff to "know your population" and communication networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
"Do your homework, because they tell us they're coming," Marshall said. "Wouldn't it be great before we can intercept them before it's a life changer?"
Kindergarten teacher Lisa Schultz told Marshall she's concerned about efficacy once issues are communicated to other staff members.
"We see this, but do we have the resources to deal with it?" she asked. "We have spoken to our social workers and guidance counselors about the things that make the hair on the back of our necks stand up ... nothing is done."
Marshall told her the purpose of the workshop is to generate conversation amongst faculty, and formulate an appropriate response.
"Almost every workshop we've done, administration walks away with more work than they started with," he said. "We're not just talking about a shooter, we're talking about students who suffer from depression, an eating disorder, a student goes home to an abusive home. We need to build some kind of mechanism to share the information, and act upon it appropriately."
Marshall also talked about situational awareness, and told staff to question surroundings, and who's on the premises.
"Does this person belong in this place at this time?" Marshall asked, instructing the crowd to repeat him. "That's your situational awareness -- memorize it. It'll help you in any situation."
If a shooting event were to arise, Marshall told the staff members how to recognize the signs of a lock down. He asked the staff what they considered that sign, and most answers were about loud speaker announcements.
"What about a gunshot? To me, that says lock down. It's not supposed to be in a school."
He told the staff their response would be situational depending on their surroundings, but that staff should start thinking about that now, if they haven't already. He told them to review their classrooms with another person to ensure they pick a safe spot for themselves and students that can't be seen by an attacker.
"If you can see a bomb, the bomb can see you," he said.
In describing an active shooter, Marshall said they're not motivated to take hostages and negotiate. Rather, they may have intended targets, will accept targets of opportunity while searching for intended targets, and continue to kill until stopped by police, suicide, or other interventions.
If there was ever an active shooter in their immediate proximity, Marshall told staff members to "do whatever it takes to survive. You've got to fight for your life."
"Today is not meant to scare you," Marshall said. "K-12 settings are decades ahead of higher education, and in New York, K-12 is way far ahead than much of the nation. But we all have to embrace this."