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In the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting that left 17 dead, Santa Maria school officials say their sites are prepared for or developing a response to potential active shooter situations. 

Although active shooter training is not part of state-mandated safety plans, both staff and students in local districts have prepared for the scenario through drills and response plans. 

In the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, officials are working to develop a protocol for handling an active shooter situation at district junior high schools, according to Brian Zimmerman, director of Pupil Personnel Services. 

Working in tandem with the Santa Maria Police Department, Zimmerman said the goal is to roll out the procedure at the junior high level before implementing it at elementary schools. 

"We've had numerous meetings and walked the campus with SMPD to determine which spots we need to be aware of," he said. "We take our advice from the police since they are the experts in this area. When we roll this out to our staff, we want it to be streamlined."

Santa Maria-Bonita schools currently employ a lockdown response (the highest state of readiness and safety) when dealing with an active shooter, potential shooter or other high-risk situations involving law enforcement activity or the possibility of danger and violence. According to Zimmerman, the purpose of the lockdown is to "make it hard for anyone in the area" to come on campus or pose a threat to students.

Students and staff are required to seek shelter in the nearest available room and remain low to the ground. The doors and windows are to remain locked, only to be opened for police or students seeking safety.

During the lockdown, students and staff should remain quiet and shut off any audio-visual equipment that could emit light or sound. Teachers are expected to maintain a state of calmness in the classroom until an all-clear signal is given by the Souza Command Center or Santa Maria Police Department.

"You always plan for the worst because you don't know what's going to happen," Zimmerman said. "There have been a number of precautionary lockdowns, but they have all been in the interest of keeping students safe. If the situation were to become uncontained, the kids won't be put in immediate danger."

Kenny Klein, spokesperson for the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, said all employees are trained to respond to an active shooter situation using the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) system, a five-step framework designed to increase a group's chances of surviving a surprise attack.

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"Case studies of several active shooter incidents have show that only [using a shelter-in-place] response has resulted in an increase in casualties," the district's "Active Shooter Emergency" protocols read. "The district has adopted the 'ALICE' response plan to assist those in harm's way should this type of incident occur."

Unlike the conventional shelter-in-place response, the ALICE system encourages staff to take proactive steps to ensure individual and collective safety. Under the ALICE system, lockdowns are simply a "semi-secure starting point" and not an end-all-be-all response. Staff should use the lockdown to gather information and remain alert, only evacuating if it is safe to do so.

As a last resort or if other options are infeasible, staff are suggested "not to fight [but] counter" the attack, as "the use of simple proactive techniques ... will make the active shooter's ability to shoot accurately more difficult."

The district's protocol suggests employees utilize noise, movement, distraction and, "where age-appropriate, the 'swarm' technique" — grabbing a shooter's limbs and head with the aim of taking them to the ground — to gain control of the situation. From a distance, staff should consider "[throwing] things at the shooter's head to disrupt their aim," or "run around the room and create chaos."

In light of the Parkland shooting, Klein said staff members have been reminded of their ALICE training and that the district continues to evaluate and update their response protocol. 

"We want to reassure you that safety continues to be a top priority for our district," Klein said. "As events occur, we continue to review and update our safety plans, collaborate with law enforcement and update training protocols within our district."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga


Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.