Education

Harrison County educators go to school on lessons learned from Columbine shooting

Leonardo Scott, left, and Mike David of Harrison Central High School and Amy Thibodeaux of North Woolmarket Elementary listen to the 911 tape from the Columbine shooting during a safety and security training session at the Harrison County School District Center for Excellence in Gulfport on Monday.
Leonardo Scott, left, and Mike David of Harrison Central High School and Amy Thibodeaux of North Woolmarket Elementary listen to the 911 tape from the Columbine shooting during a safety and security training session at the Harrison County School District Center for Excellence in Gulfport on Monday. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

Gunshots pop in the background in a 911 tape of a Columbine school teacher as she ordered students to stay on the floor and under tables before two young gunmen stormed the library.

A video from the Great White concert in Rhode Island shows a fatal human stampede. Hundreds ran screaming toward the front entrance after a fire broke out; concert-goers didn’t notice three other exits or glass windows that could have been broken.

School officials from the Harrison County School District heard and watched the horrors Monday in a safety and security training class taught by instructors from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety Office of Homeland Security and the Mississippi Law Enforcement Academy.

Some flinched at what they saw and heard. Some gasped or covered their mouths. Others whispered, “Oh, my God.”

Safety officials have studied how people reacted in both tragedies and have learned techniques that can help improve safety in schools, said Jim Brinson, MDPSHS director of operations.

“When you hear something that’s like gunshots, we need to act accordingly. Go ahead and assume it’s gunfire,” he said.

Brinson emphasized that denying that something bad is happening can cost lives.

Taking the time to breathe and calm yourself is the first step to respond in a clear-headed manner, he said, urging officials to not freeze.

“Under extreme stress, simple things become extremely difficult,” Brinson said. “We need you to calm yourself down. ... Take a deep breath.”

The reactions to extreme stress are fight, flight or freeze, he said.

“Fighting is a survival skill,” he said. “Fleeing, running, that is a survival school. Freezing is not a survival skill. Freezing is no option and can get you killed,” Brinson said.

He encouraged officials to set aside fear, then shift emotions and get angry.

“You’re body will do things when it’s angry that it won’t do when you have fear,” Brinson said. “Fear will shut you down. Anger will wake you up.”

The deliberation process of possible options can lead to that decisive moment of making life-saving decisions he said.

Hiding’s not necessarily the best action in an active shooter situation, he said.

“We want to deny that person access to us,” Brinson said.

Windows, for instance, can be broken for a makeshift exit.

School officials said the training can help them face emergency situations.

“We don’t ever want to be caught in a situation like that,” said Shelly Simmons, principal of River Oaks Elementary School in Gulfport.

Simmons said she was glad to learn better ways to respond to potential danger and to find out about defense mechanisms.

“We’ve learned some good tools,” Simmons said.

Some of the training sessions were closed to the media due to the sensitive nature of school security discussions, said Trang Pham-Bui, school district spokeswoman.

Brinson encouraged administrators to improve their situational awareness at school and in their private lives as well. When going to a restaurant, look around to find the exits and consider what you could use to defend yourself or break a window if you had to, he said.

He mentioned a shooting in Jackson where people at a restaurant were standing up to look out a window as a shooting unfolded.

“What you’re doing is presenting targets to the shooter,” Brinson said. “We don’t want you to do that.”

Area law enforcement officers also attended the training.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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