First responders from across Kentucky met Friday afternoon at the Executive Inn Rivermont to discuss how to best react to a school violence. The seriousness of the topic was underscored by a real event that happened across the country earlier in the day.
Delaware State University was shut down — with dorms locked and students told to stay in their rooms — after two students were shot and wounded. By afternoon, Dover, Del., police were interviewing one person and searching for another.
Christopher Suprun — who responded as a paramedic during the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on Washington, D.C., and worked on school security issues during the “D.C. Sniper” attacks in 2002 — said that Delaware State did virtually everything right in the wake of the shootings.
“If you picked up any phone on campus, it went straight to a recorded message telling you to stay in your dorm,” Suprun said. Suprun was in Owensboro conducting presentations on how first responders, firefighters and other medical personnel should respond to school shootings.
Suprun said Delaware State officials learned from the Virginia Tech campus attack earlier this year and quickly notified students.
“The real tragedy (would be) not learning from your mistakes,” Suprun said.
At one point during his presentation, Suprun showed the group a picture of first responders waiting outside Columbine High School during that school shooting in 1999.
Although waiting is difficult for a first-responder, who is trained to immediately begin administering care in an accident or tragic situation, the responders at Columbine were doing the right thing, Suprun said; they were waiting for police to contain the threat before the entering the school.
To have done otherwise would have put the responders in jeopardy of being shot.
“It’s not that they were doing nothing. They have an assigned role to be able to treat patients — not right now, but in five minutes” or when the situation is under control, Suprun said.
In a school shooting scenario, the shooters likely have the advantage of planning. At Columbine, for example, the shooters had planted a diversion bomb to draw firefighters away from the school and had planted bombs inside to drive students into areas where they could be ambushed.
While school shooters typically do not have high test scores, they are intelligent enough to make attack plans, he said.
Potential school attackers can be foiled by their apparent need to boast or make threats in advance, Suprun said, but people who hear such comments have to take them seriously.
“In my experience, I tend to think (people lean) more toward the complacency side,” Suprun said. “(Before Sept. 11) we know we had multiple FBI reports on the hijackers … that were just plain ignored.”
First responders at the scene of a school shooting should do several things, including creating a plan, setting up triage centers to assess the injured, keeping other agencies and responders informed of the situation and needs, and setting up a responder command-and-control system. Above all, medical responders should not do things that put their lives in jeopardy, such as entering an unsafe area.
“I’d say number one is they don’t serve anybody by getting (hurt) themselves,” he said.
Community residents who arrive later wanting to help victims should be put to work in areas that match their skills.
“You’re going to have people in your community who want to help, and you’re going to have to find a way to get them involved,” Suprun said. “Find what their talent is in an organized manner and put them to work.”