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BHS collaborates with agencies in active shooter intruder drill

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Brainerd fire Department along with North Ambulance remove actors from the Brainerd High School after an active shooter drill Thursday, Aug. 22, involving combined law enforcement and rescue personnel. Steve Kohls / Brianerd Dispatch

Students will be flooding the hallways at Brainerd High School north and south campuses in less than two weeks.

Thoughts of getting to class on time, making sure they have all their school supplies and seeing their friends again are most likely going through their minds as the dog days of summer will soon be left behind.

Thoughts of keeping these estimated 1,900 students safe in a secure campus have been on the minds of school officials as they are busy preparing.

Those thoughts were put into action the morning of Thursday, Aug. 22, when BHS partnered with local law enforcement, fire and emergency medical service agencies on an active shooter intruder training drill.

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The scenario happened fast. The shooter in a black mask -- played by Central Lakes College student Hunter Furstenberg of Pillager -- and dressed in green hooded sweatshirt, jeans and work boots, pressed the push-button monitor box at the main entrance of the high school. When school staff answered, Furstenberg said he was there to speak with one of the administrators and he was buzzed in. The Pillager man walked past the student services office and into the A Commons area and began shooting. Staff called 911 and dispatchers paged authorities.

Law enforcement from the Brainerd and Baxter police departments, the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota State Patrol responded, as well as the Brainerd Fire Department and North Memorial Ambulance. Students in the CLC law enforcement program also participated.

Between the responders, school staff and volunteers who participated in the drill, there were about 200 people involved. Fifth Street, which runs along the front entrance of the high school, was full of emergency vehicles on both sides -- as a student driver drove past the scene.

Emergency responders entered the building and tended six people who had mock injuries at all levels. The scenario included the death of one staff member and the shooter was killed. Officers carried fake weapons for training, with some blue in color.

“The most important part of today is we’re going to learn from it,” BHS Principal Andrea Rusk said. “We hope to learn what we are doing well and what we are not doing well.”

Rusk said this is the first time the high school has planned an active shooter intruder training drill of this magnitude, by including the local emergency/first responder agencies. Rusk said the district has participated in several smaller training drills in the past, but with everything happening in the nation, schools need to make school safety a priority.

“We need to learn and practice these drills, because it doesn’t come from a textbook,” Rusk said. “This is the best way to learn.”

Josh Fordyce, dean of students at the south campus, who also is in charge of the school’s emergency response at both campuses, said the high school did a smaller drill last fall and wanted to do a drill of a larger scale. Fordyce said Brainerd got the idea for the drill from the Pierz School District and began planning.

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Fordyce and Troy Schreifels, a Brainerd police officer and the BHS resource officer, led the planning sessions. Fordyce said one of the challenges the high school has with security comes from having two separate buildings -- the north and south campuses -- and students come in and out of both. All the doors are locked during the academic day and the school added security requiring people to be buzzed in to enter and check in with office staff.

This was not always the case. BHS has never had an active shooter in the buildings, but this past February, a registered sex offender entered the girls locker room at the north campus and physically assaulted a teacher. The sex offender has since been convicted and sentenced for the crime. The morning of the attack, building and grounds staff had opened the doors for the day, which was the standard practice to allow sports teams and others early access to the school.

Now, people have to request entrance using a push-button monitor box at the main entrance to get in the building. It’s a protocol the Brainerd School District recently adopted at other schools.

“The incident with the teacher was unfortunate,” Fordyce said. “But it reminded us that we are nowhere near where we need to be.”

Fordyce said with the construction going on at the high school, it will bring challenges, but security will remain a priority.

“When we go into these scenarios, we don’t know what will happen,” Fordyce said. “We know we will make mistakes. We know there are details we didn’t think about. Having said that, this drill went really well, considering we planned it meticulously.

“We know it would be much more chaotic if an event like that would happen.”

Schreifels said participating in drills of this magnitude is beneficial for all the collaborative agencies where they can learn from each other, and adding the school district to the training was a bonus.

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“It’s not a matter of if this will happen, it is a matter of when it will happen,” Schreifels said. “You have to prepare for it, and to do that, you need to run these drills to see where your weaknesses are at and then improve upon them. At the police department we train at churches and other places to help us for worse case scenario.”

Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston said having this opportunity to train with multiple agencies and organizations with police, fire, EMS and the school is valuable.

“This is a learning opportunity for us and one we cannot measure,” McQuiston said. “It’s difficult to coordinate this many resources and plan all this. We are fortunate to have a good working relationship with everyone. Hats off to the school district for initiating this and to do this at this scale. We really benefited from this drill.”

McQuiston said one thing he hopes to come out of the drill is it builds the community’s confidence with school security and it helps law enforcement improve its response if an active shooting would occur.

McQuiston encourages people, organizations and businesses to prepare themselves in case they ever encounter a shooting by accessing resources provided by the FBI. Homeland Security’s message is “run, hide, fight.” People may go to the FBI’s website at https://bit.ly/2jJopgp to see what resources are available.

“We can’t give instructions of what to do and what not to do,” McQuiston said, as every situation is different and people have to use their instinct of what to do if they’re ever in a shooting event.

Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said police were excited to be invited by BHS to participate in the drill.

“This is a good stepping stone,” Exsted said of the training process. “It was a great collaborative between EMS, police, fire, the school district.

“Unfortunately, the reality is it’s a good possibility that a shooting could be at a school or a church and it could happen in this area. As law enforcement, we can adapt our training to any setting and communication is always the main thing to work on.”

Lt. Adam Kronstedt, Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, said these drills are a good way for officers, firefighters and first responders to practice their skills and to learn from any shortfalls they may have. The drill went smoothly, with not many shortfalls, but Kronstedt said it was good to have all the agencies work together.

Furstenberg, who is almost done with his law enforcement degree at CLC, said he was excited to help the school and authorities with the drill.

“When I was told I was going to be the designated bad guy, I was like ‘OK,’” he said. “This is the position I prefer. It felt good to help.

“Working for Brainerd Police is my dream job and I am so happy they reached out to me to help.”

Susan Wiger, a teacher at BHS South Campus, was nervous about helping with the drill, but participated because it was a good opportunity to learn what she should do if a shooter ever entered her classroom. Wiger was in the commons area when the shooter came in.

“It was a surprise when I heard the shots,” she said. “As a drill, you knew it was coming, but it still caught me off guard. My first instinct was to take the student next to me and we went immediately to hide in the bathroom and barricade it. She had moderate bleeding and I had to calm her. As a teacher, students look to you on knowing what is going on and you don’t know. … This was a good opportunity to practice and to see how you’d act. (School shootings) are too common of an occurrence and we have to be ready.”

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