Alabama Schools Plan Response for Hostage Situations

Nov. 18, 2004
Officers' plan is to enter schools immediately; group recommends avoiding delays on entering the facilities

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Planning for the worst, sheriff's officials have developed a blueprint for dealing with school shootings or takeovers that includes armed officers getting inside buildings as quickly as possible.

Law officers went over the policy with educators in a meeting Wednesday, explaining that at least two well-armed deputies will be cleared to charge inside if bullets are flying.

``Our primary objective is to go into that school and stop the person doing the shooting,'' said Deputy Danny Hallmark. ``That sounds blunt, but that's the nature of police work.''

Sheriff Mike Hale said the meeting was to update school officials on procedures for handling crises at public schools, like the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado that killed one teacher and 14 students.

``We must recognize that all schools in the nation are a soft target for terrorists or terrorism. We saw that in Russia,'' Hale said. ``If something happens in your schools, you've got to know what the plan is.''

Armed militants with explosives strapped to their bodies stormed a Russian school near Chechnya on Sept. 1. More than 200 people were killed, most of them children.

Under the county plan, the first deputy on the scene is supposed to gather as much information as possible about what is happening inside a school under siege. Once a second deputy arrives, the plan is for them to go in unless a third deputy is only seconds away.

``(Students and teachers) have a better chance of survival if those two deputies enter the school at the main entrance and proceed immediately to the threat and neutralize that threat,'' Hallmark told administrators.

In past school shootings elsewhere, Hallmark said, time was wasted by first responders because they waited for a supervisor or tactical units.

``Things happened that maybe shouldn't have happened,'' he said. ``We can take three deputies on patrol anywhere in Jefferson County and now, if we have the worst-case scenario, that's a three-man SWAT team,'' Hallmark said.

Every deputy underwent training earlier this year, coming up with a plan and a policy for an ``active shooting'' scenario. Officers also are equipped with better body armor and weapons, and the department's 23 in-school officers have updated floor plans for all schools.

Jane Baker, principal at Shades Valley High School, felt reassured after hearing the plan. Vandals spray painted references to Columbine on her school just last week.

``It's well thought out,'' Baker said. ``I would like for all municipalities to have the opportunity to train with them.''