Fountain Fort Carson Schools Start Safety Outside

Fountain Fort Carson Schools Start Safety Outside

For Fountain-Fort Carson schools, safety begins outside the building
Posted on 06/06/2018

Keeping an armed attacker or some other assailant out of a school is a lot like preparing for military combat, Fountain Police Chief Chris Heberer says.

"You've got to be on the offensive," he said.

Once they're inside, "you're too late," the former Fort Carson military police battalion commander explained, because then it's likely students and staff will be injured or killed.

Operating on that premise, Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 is working with the Fountain Police Department and military police from Fort Carson to make school safety and security a priority, said Montina Romero, assistant superintendent of student support services.

Several initiatives are underway, including a town hall at 6 p.m. Thursday at Fountain-Fort Carson High School, 900 Jimmy Camp Road. Parents and community members will learn about how D-8 officials and Fort Carson and Fountain police are working together to keep schools safe.

Information from an annual emergency response training held Wednesday and Thursday will be discussed.

Also, a new program, Eagle Hawk Eyes, will be unveiled.

The idea: "Get unarmed volunteers to be in school parking lots, checking access," Heberer said.

"We have to expand our layers of defense around schools to provide early warning to deal with a problem before an intruder with a firearm enters the school," he said.

Volunteers will be vetted and trained, said Deputy Fountain Police Chief Tommy Coates.

"They'd have a radio, vests, shirts and would relay anything of a suspicious nature to the school resource officers inside the building," Coates said, "Instead of waiting for it to come through the front door, we're working externally to prevent it."

Police hope 50 volunteers step up to participate in the pilot program. Volunteers would rotate shifts to cover school parking lots throughout the school day, with the high school and middle schools a priority.

"It's about prevention and about us being proactive," Romero said. "None of these are happening because something happened at our schools."

The district of 8,340 students - about three-fourths of whom are from a military family - also will more than double the number of city and military police working on school School resource officers, armed police officers assigned to school duty, will be more than doubled, from seven to 15 when the next semester starts in August.campuses starting in the fall.

The 10 city cops will cost up to $800,000 annually, Heberer said, which the school district and the Police Department will share.

The other five school resource officers will be military police, stationed at D-8 schools on Fort Carson property. Fountain-Fort Carson High School will have three SROs, the middle schools two and each elementary school one.

Heberer said as a parent, he understands the fears and concerns.

"We want a school environment where kids can be safe but still be kids," he said.

License plate readers in parking lots also have been discussed, Heberer said.

Over the summer, a secure vestibule is being constructed at the front of D-8 elementary schools for visitors to check in without entering the main building.

Mental health support with school psychologists and counselors in every school and threat assessment policies also are part of D-8's preventive measures, Romero said.

For the third year, D-8 administrators are participating in an in-depth training this week that simulated an active shooter, a student with a knife and two parents involved in a child custody dispute at Fountain-Fort Carson High School.

School resource officers, Fountain patrol officers and SWAT responded Wednesday, along with emergency medical technicians and Fountain firefighters. In all, about 70 people are taking part, including administrators from nearby Widefield School District 3.

The drill is being repeated Thursday, with military police responding.

The training focuses on what each group needs to get out of the partnership, said D-8 spokeswoman Christy McGee.

Administrators will take the training back to individual schools, to work on emergency responses in their specific settings, she said.

New training for students will go beyond routine procedures, Romero said.

"Overall, I think our schools are really safe, but we need to continue to educate students on the consequences of opening a locked door to somebody who shouldn't be there," she said.

Realistic enactment is the best way to prepare for the unthinkable, said Cpl. Matt Sanchez, a D-8 school resource officer who played both the gunman and a hostage during Wednesday's drill.

"This is extremely important training for us," he said, while crouching around a corner waiting for the scene to unfold. "This is the type of situation you pray never happens, but you're prepared just in case."

Recent school shootings factor into the simulations, Heberer said.

"Whether it's in (Las) Vegas or at a school, each shooting we want to learn from," he said.

Inside Fountain-Fort Carson High, a masked gunman enters the band room, shooting as he runs down a dark, narrow hallway on the second floor.

Amid the pop of simulated gunshots were shouts: "Help!" "I'm hurt!" and "Owww, my leg is bleeding."

Police ask victims where the shooter went, what he looked like, what he was wearing, how hurt they are, if they can walk, and if so, to leave the band room.

In one corner, 11th-grader Heaven Humbert is crying and yelling that her classmate, Abigail Baez, is unresponsive.

Students sometimes joke about school shootings and death, Heaven said.

"Once it happens, it's hard to be prepared," she said. "You don't understand unless you prepare. This is absolutely necessary."

"Sadly," Abigail said, "my generation has to go through it, and it shouldn't be like this. It's something I think about a lot. I don't want to go to funerals of my friends - that shouldn't be a normal thing."

By: Debbie Kelly, The Gazette