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CMS staff receive active shooter training

"Active shooter" Jack Slater "ambushes" CMS staff in the cafeteria at the end of the ALICE training. Startled teachers and other staff scramble out of the way as fast as they can, implementing what they learned during the earlier practices. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 6
Adam Blesener plays the part of an active shooter in the Cloquet Middle School during ALICE training for school staff. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 6
School Resource Officer Erik Blesener explains the three drills the school staff will be doing during ALICE training: staying in place, blocking the doors and windows, or attacking the shooter. He said there have been several near-incidents at the high school in the last 20 years. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal3 / 6
CMS staff members rush and disarm Adam Blesener, the "active shooter" during training Friday afternoon, March 1. The school staff members chose whether they wanted to flee the shooter or take him down in this last mock attack of the day. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal4 / 6
"Active shooter" Adam Blesener "shoots" CMS staff in the media center as part of ALICE training Friday morning, March 1. In this portion of the training, they were told they had to stay in place – no running away. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal5 / 6
Casey Essler, Jack Slater and Adam Blesener, all sophmores, pose for a photo after they finished playing active shooters during ALICE training for Cloquet Middle School staff members. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal6 / 6

"There's an active shooter in the hallway," School Resource Officer Erik Blesener shouts. There is a flurry of activity in the Cloquet Middle School media room as people grab bookshelves on wheels and push them toward the doors to barricade them.

Adrenaline spikes. Some shout encouragement and others directions. All are moving fast. The drill lasts just minutes.

Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate, or ALICE, training is a reality for many schools, businesses and other entities. Blesener has been training school staff members at Cloquet schools since the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. The training helps teachers, cooks and janitors understand what options they have besides locking doors and hiding if an active shooter situation should happen.

"Do you fight, flee or freeze?" Blesener asked. They were about to find out.

While students were off from school Friday, March 1, there was training for middle school staff and three volunteer "active shooters." The morning began with a presentation explaining what ALICE training is and how it was developed. There were statistics of several shooting events, including the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., which illustrated why hiding is not always the best option.

After the presentation, the approximately 120 staff were separated into three groups and sent to the media room, the band room and a classroom.

The staff took part in several drills, including staying in place when the shooter entered the room, barricading the doors, throwing things at the shooter and evacuating.

'There is a lot of stuff to think about'

"Be creative and think of anything you can throw," Blesener urged during one drill. He directed them to look through their classrooms and be prepared in the unlikely event a shooting happens during the school day.

After each drill, Blesener counted how many people had been "hit." The numbers dropped once staff took action.

Sophomore students Adam Blesener, Jack Slater and Casey Essler, who played the role of active shooters, were armed with large Nerf guns.

They waited in the hallway until the signal was given by Blesener or his assistants, Chad Pattison from the Fond du Lac Police Department and Kyle Voltzke from the Cloquet Police Department, to begin a mock attack for each drill.

The three volunteer shooters said they learned a few things from the training.

"There is a lot of stuff to think about," Jack said. "Like how far away the shooter is so you know when to run."

Jack and Adam said they were nervous about the role they played.

"I didn't feel right shooting at teachers, even though it was just a Nerf gun," Jack said.

Casey had no such qualms.

"It was fun," he said. "I got to 'shoot' some of my old teachers."

He said he was surprised how difficult it was to concentrate when staff threw the lightweight plastic balls at him during the counter-attack drill.

Several teachers said the training was well done, timely and, sadly, essential in today's world.

The middle school building is new and has updated safety features, such as doors that can be locked by pushing a button in the office. The doors would potentially keep a shooter contained to one part of the building, allowing students and staff in other wings to escape safely.

Staff learned the outside windows in the media room can't be broken and used as an exit because they are made of safety glass.

The first drill was to sit in place during the shooting. The mock shooter came through and easily shot many people. Several would have died if it had been a real event.

Next, they barricaded the doors. This was easy enough in the media room, where there are several bookcases on wheels and large furniture.

Finally, it was down to fighting and evacuation drills.

'I thought of my kids'

Blesener explained it is difficult for a shooter to hit a moving target. When both are moving, it's more difficult yet. Zig-zagging back and forth adds another level of difficulty for the shooter to successfully hit anyone.

"Even if he is coming back, go, go, go," Blesener said. "He may be shooting at you, but zig-zag when you run down the hallway. It's amazing how many people he's not going to hit. The odds of you getting hit is extremely low."

Blesener set the scene for the evacuation drill: The shooter already tried the media room, but the doors were locked. The shooter gave up and walked away. He walked down to the end of the hallway to find those doors locked. There is only one way for him to go: back to the media room.

"Now you know you are a target," Blesener said. "Now you're going to go for it ... when you're fast walking, do the zig-zaggy thing. Don't walk against the wall because he will just shoot at the wall."

"I get angry," English teacher Deb Fisher said. "It's the flight or fight thing. I wanted you guys (other teachers) to get him while I ran the other way."

As she raced the opposite direction of the shooter during the drill, she yelled, "Get him!" and three people did just that. In a few short seconds, Adam was disarmed.

"Take off, go — it's the best chance you have," Blesener said. "Staying put is the least likely chance to survive if he comes back. You'll be sitting ducks. Take a chance — run, run for your life."

"I thought of my kids as we did the drills," science teacher Matt Wirbigler said. "I am a teacher and a parent. I have children in this school. I thought about what I would want their teacher to be doing and what I would want their teacher to have them do. I definitely would not want them to just sit there and get shot."

Several teachers gathered around the table and nodded in agreement.

"Putting us in the situation and being one of the statistics makes it more real," Fisher said.

Another teacher added that breaking down the death rates between each drill helped her understand why taking action can be the best choice.

During the counter-attack portion, the students were disarmed by the staff.

"The teachers were scary," Jack said. "They're big dudes."

Blesener explained the majority of active school shooters use hand guns because they are more easily accessible. Fewer than 5 percent use assault weapons, like the AR-15 rifle. There are record gun sales after each assault weapon shooting because people fear the guns will be banned.

There were eight people shot after the evacuation drill, but most would have survived.

"That is evacuating right with the shooter," Blesener said. "That also would in reality be a good time because there are a lot of people there."

'We've been lucky at Cloquet'

Several people were visibly shocked when Blesener talked about some serious issues in Cloquet schools.

"We had students in the middle school last year who were being sex trafficked," Blesener said. "There were three cases here of fifth- and sixth-grade girls who were actively trafficked. There are people in prison for that. It's real. It's happening here. Don't think it's not."

He said he found a gun in a student's locker at the alternative school in 1999.

In the mid-2000s, a student reported a boy had a gun in school and was planning to shoot someone. Warren Peterson, the high school principal at the time, found the student in his science class and had the student put his hands on the table so Peterson could reach into the boy's sweatshirt pocket.

Peterson was surprised when he felt the butt of a gun. He disarmed the student and brought him out of the classroom.

"That kid planned to kill two kids that day. They had been bullying him," Blesener said somberly. "We've been lucky at Cloquet."