SUBLETTE — USD 374 Superintendent Rex Bruce is feeling much more secure these days, now that his district staff have been trained on how to respond in an active shooter situation and have a new SafeDefend emergency response system in their schools.
“It gives us a peace of mind, and me as a superintendent, a peace of mind knowing that we give our staff the tools they need to defend the students and themselves,” Bruce said. “We don’t want any kids or employees harmed. It gives us the fastest response.”
SafeDefend is an emergency response system that reduces the threats in an active shooter situation. Its purpose is to prepare, notify and protect.
On Wednesday, faculty and staff of USD 374 and local emergency responders sat in on a presentation by Doug Parisi, SafeDefend director of training.
“We’re trying to make sure that everyone that might be here in our building is trained and knows what’s going on,” Bruce said.
During the presentation, Parisi talked about the “epidemic” of school shootings and showed statistics, such as the number of casualties and response time of emergency responders. Parisi also explained how teachers can protect students and themselves from an armed intruder by barricading the door with any object available, from desks to chairs to even pencils.
Parisi explained that if students were to throw their pencils or pens near the door, it could cause uneven footing for an armed intruder that is trying to enter, causing distraction.
Those who attended were shown the contents of SafeDefend safes and explained how they can be used to protect students from an armed intruder.
Each SafeDefend safe contains pepper spray, a blinding strobe light, flex cuffs, a security defense baton and window breaks, whistle, reflective vest, trauma kit and tourniquet.
Parisi also showed news clips of Kaitlin Roig, a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, recalling what she did to protect and comfort her students during the school shooting there in 2012.
Parisi told the audience about Victoria Soto, a Sandy Hook teacher who died while trying to protect her students from the gunman, as well as a news clip of a male student at Seattle Pacific University subduing a human by pepper spraying him and taking his gun and detaining him until help arrived.
The SafeDefend safes open at the swipe of a finger. Up to 30 fingerprints can be programmed to each individual safe. When a safe is opened, it automatically alerts law enforcement, the school’s main office, teachers and staff and district administrators, Parisi said.
The SafeDefend safes can only be accessed or opened by those who have had their fingerprints programmed into it.
The district has installed a total of 62 SafeDefend Safes in the middle/high school and the elementary school. Each classroom has a safe in them. There are also safes installed in “strategic locations” around each building, including the gymnasium, offices and the band room, Bruce, said. He added that safes were installed where district officials thought they were needed.
John Ornelas, an ESL teacher at Sublette High School, said SafeDefend gives the district more of a sense of security.
“I actually think it’s pretty good just for the fact that we’re safe, and the only ones that can get into it are the ones that are registered to it,” Ornelas said. “I know that I can leave my room and not have to worry about somebody coming in and getting into my desk and getting what we have. Now it’s only our fingerprints opening it up.”
Bruce said that prior to the district purchasing the SafeDefend systems, it wasn’t clear who would call 911 if there was an active shooter. He also said that there were some areas in the middle/high school building that could not hear the intercom, which is used to announce lockdowns.
“So we had those issues, and this answered all those questions with just a single finger swipe,” Bruce said of SafeDefend.
After the presentation, those who attended were given hands-on training in how to use some of the supplies in the safes.
Parisi showed one group how the baton can be used to break a window and used to swipe away the broken glass so the window can be crawled out of in an emergency. District staff also got to use the baton and take a swing at a punching bag to experience the power of the device.
Outside, in front of the auditorium, Rusty Russell, vice president of sales for SafeDefend, demonstrated how to use a can of pepper spray.
There was also a session on how to properly use a tourniquet and how to help those who are injured.
“I think that this program that we learned has been above and beyond anything that we have learned in a long time in an inservice because it’s going to be able to protect the kids,” said Jane Lehning, a computer teacher at Sublette High School.
Lehning added that she thinks the training gave her and others who attended more confidence in handling an active shooter situation.
“I think that’s more important than anything right now is that we have the confidence and we feel like we can be that confident — show that confidence to our kids if something does ever happen,” Lehning said.
Overall, Bruce is pleased with SafeDefend.
The cost of SafeDefend, including installation, totaled $45,000. About $20,000 was donated by a district patron, and the remainder came from the district’s general fund, Bruce said.
But a price cannot be put on the safety of the students and employees of the district, Bruce said.