While the events that took place Monday morning at Colo-Nesco High School were only a simulation of a potential event, students and staff showed they were prepared to handle an active shooter situation.
Seventh through 12th grade students, staff and administrators participated in an active shooter drill. Shortly after 9 a.m., a law enforcement officer from the Story County Sheriff’s Office entered the school, acting as a shooter. This officer was accompanied by two other county officers, who observed how students and staff reacted to the shooter. An announcement was made over the school’s loud speaker system, notifying students and staff that a shooter had entered the building. Within three minutes of the start of the drill, the shooter had been taken down by a teacher and the drill ended.
Dana Accola, family and consumer sciences teacher, was the one who took down the shooter. As the students were exiting his classroom, Accola heard the air horn blasts, simulating the sound of gun shots, let off by the shooter.
"I knew I couldn’t get down the hallway fast enough (to escape the shooter), so I stayed in the classroom," Accola said.
He locked his classroom door and shut off all the lights. When the shooter entered the room after "shooting" the door to get it open, Accola snuck up behind the shooter and brought him down.
Deputy Nick Lennie of the Story County Sheriff’s Office said shooter situations typically last about 10 minutes, so for Accola to take the shooter down within three minutes, he saved seven minutes of time. If it had been a real situation, lives could have potentially been saved, as well.
Overall, law enforcement officers and Superintendent Jim Verlengia said the drill went very well.
"I’m very proud of the students and the community today," Verlengia said.
The reason the drill was such a success was because of the ALICE training the school has taken part in. ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, aims to prepare school districts for how to handle active shooter situations and increase survivability. A training was conducted by the Story County Sheriff’s Office November 29, 2012, to show students the different ways they could respond to a shooter situation, such as locking themselves in classrooms, throwing objects at the shooter as a distraction or evacuating the building. Verlengia said staff members received additional training prior to last November’s training to prepare for active shooter situations.
As a result of all the training, there were no "casualties" during Monday’s drill.
"Everybody lived today because of the training and because you took this seriously," Lennie told Colo-Nesco students and staff during an assembly following the drill.
Gregory Ekstein, a ninth grader, said his classroom ran outside as soon as they heard the announcement over the loud speakers and their teacher poked her head out the door to make sure the coast was clear. He credits the training students received prior to the drill for helping him remain calm during the event.
"We were all pretty prepared. It was like a fire drill for us," Ekstein said.
Colo-Nesco is the first school in the state to hold such a drill. Verlengia said the district plans to hold similar drills at least every two years. They may hold one during the coming school year since fifth and sixth graders will be joining the high school and have not gone through the training yet.
"It won’t be as regular as a tornado or fire drill," Verlengia said.
While some may think holding such trainings will put the school in danger of becoming a target for a future shooter situation, Verlengia believes the training will help prepare students and staff within the district to handle such a situation, both in and outside of school environments. For the graduating seniors, they will be able to take the knowledge they gained during the training to help others if they come across a shooter situation in their workplace or at college.
Verlengia said Colo-Nesco, as well as other small town school districts, have a "small school mentality" and feel they are in a "culture of safety" where they know everyone and are not exposed to many bad situations. The reality is that shooting situations can happen anywhere, and not necessarily within the walls of a school building.
"It just makes me sick, but we cannot pretend that we’re not at risk for it," Verlengia said.