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West Valley City Journal

Training for a tragedy

Feb 06, 2023 03:07PM ● By Darrell Kirby

Police enter the mostly vacant Hunter Junior High School in West Valley City as part of training to respond to a shooting incident at a school. (Courtesy Granite School District)

An active shooter at a school is perhaps the biggest nightmare for any student, parent, teacher and the surrounding community. 

To prepare for what is becoming less of an impossibility anywhere or any time, Granite School District police with the help of West Valley City police conducted an active shooter training at Hunter Junior High School in January. 

Students were absent that day because of term break, giving responders from both police forces the opportunity to plan and practice tactics without interrupting school operations. A few school staff members were working, however, and some officers played the role of students and bystanders to give the exercise a little more realism. 

“Police are able to get that on-location, scenario-based training that’s very insightful and useful for their training purposes,” said Granite School District spokesperson Matt Sampson.  

Granite police fired simulation rounds, or blanks, to familiarize school staff with the sound of  real gunshots so they “have a little more heightened awareness and alertness to that,” Sampson said. 

This and other similar training drills also include coordinating communication among agencies, chain of command, who arrives first on the scene, entry to the building, securing classrooms and hallways, a suspect barricade situation, and getting people safely out of the school. 

The Granite School District, the third largest in Utah with 83 schools and 60,000 students, conducts similar training with police in the other cities where its schools are located. “Whenever we have an opportunity to get some hands-on, collaborative training like this, we jump at those opportunities,” Sampson said.

In the last few years, Granite schools have undergone security renovations to create a single point of entry to the public, giving staff a better view and handle on who is coming and going throughout the day with the goal of protecting the interior of the schools from unknown or unwanted visitors. 

Education Week, a national publication, has been tracking school shootings in the U.S. since 2018. Last year saw the most with 51 events resulting in deaths and injuries. In those, 39 people were killed—32 students and seven school employees and other adults. More than 100 were injured. 

The most tragic incident in 2022 was in Uvalde, Texas where 19 elementary school students and two teachers were gunned down and 16 people were hurt in the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. 

The exercise at Hunter Junior High School was given added urgency by a false-alarm incident at Granger Elementary School in November in which noises from a classroom science experiment were mistaken for gunshots by a teacher who called 911, prompting a large response from police and other emergency responders. 

“We’re always looking to improve our security measures,” Sampson said.