Even prior to last week's tragic school shooting in Florida, schools and law enforcement across America have been more than aware that potentially life-threatening situations could arise at schools at any time.

The Dodge City Public Schools and the Dodge City Police Department have taken many steps to ensure the safety of students and reduce the possibility of an armed attacker gaining access to students. Dodge City Police Lt. Jeff Mooradian said the department is pushing the importance of awareness among entire staffs at the schools.

"We've been working with USD 443 a lot," Mooradian said. "We go into the schools and we teach the staff concepts to deal with armed intruders. The only thing we teach students is awareness; what should they be looking for and what they should do.

"We teach them to first listen to the teachers, and then we train the teachers how to quarterback their teams in the classroom."

Yvonda Offerle, public information officer for USD 443, said along with training from the police department, the district employs crisis flip charts in each classroom to help guide teachers in a response to an attacker.

Offerle said that the district's emergency operations plan six years ago was in drastic need of an update. She said a crisis committee was formed including local law enforcement and first responders, as well as mental health officials. The plan was completely re-written to reflect up-to-date procedures.

Today, training procedures obviously call for evacuation first and foremost, but emphasis has been placed on countering the attack and fighting back at an attacker if there is no other resort. Offerle said the district refers to this as run-hide-fight training. If they can't get out of the building, the administration wants students and staff to hide as best as possible.

"If all else fails and the intruder actually gets to them, we want them to fight," Offerle said. "That's a different mindset than the entire nation has been teaching. The theory was that you sit there and wait for help. Unfortunately that's not something you can do anymore.

"It ends up turning students into victims because they're just sitting there waiting."

Mooradian said procedures have changed since the Columbine High School killings in Colorado in 1999. Two teens there killed 13 students and wounded 20 others. Tactics changed dramatically following that incident. Protocol had been for students and teachers to hunker down and lock themselves in a classroom or other secured areas.

"Get out if you can," Mooradian said. "If you can throw a desk through a window and get out, there's no reason to shelter in place."

Offerle said as of yet the district has not had the issue of potentially arming certified staff in schools come up, but she said she anticipates it possibly becoming an issue.

"You're starting to hear more and more rumblings about it across the nation," she said. "It's something the board would have to make a decision on."

Mooradian said training now also touches on teachers and staff thinking outside the box - finding items readily at hand to barricade doors or break windows to escape, or even be used as potential weapons if necessary.

"It's last-resort stuff," Mooradian said, "but it's not out of the question to ask a group of fourth or fifth graders to try and take a guy down because it can be that or they die."

The school buildings in Dodge City allow for very restricted access to entry. By the beginning of each school day all doors other than ones closest to school offices are locked and only allow opening from the inside.

Offerle said that through the new construction, eventually most schools in Dodge City will have a buzzer system in place so no one can enter any door without first contacting office staff via outside communication. Some buildings will restrict entry points to those which enter directly into the school office.

Offerle said some schools in town already have systems in place where internal doors are locked at all times, so if an attacker were to enter the front door they would not be able to reach student areas. She said all school buildings in Dodge City will employ the system in the near future.  

Communications play a vital role in any attack. Mooradian said the department's new 800 megahertz radio system allows for far better communication between the myriad agencies that would likely respond to any active shooter situation, allowing for command and response to be coordinated.

Offerle said the district's radio communication was also improved following a mock-shooter drill in 2015.

Mooradian said that the DCPD is as ready as possible for a potential emergency at one of Dodge City's schools.

"I can confidently say that the Dodge City Police Department is fully prepared for these situations," he said. "As things have evolved in training, we have kept up and evolved with them. We're always looking for more effective ways to keep our community safe."

Mooradian is also commander of the DCPD Special Operations Response Team (SORT) which would respond to active shooters or other life-threatening actions at Dodge City schools. Mooradian said the SORT team is prepared for many potential situations in schools, but bringing the team together upon word of an emergency takes time.

Protocols at individual schools will have far more effect in dealing with attackers in an immediate manner, and officers are trained to respond individually to thwart a threat quickly.

"Because of the exigency of the circumstance, you'll see more guys just out on patrol on the street going straight there,” Mooradian said. “All of our officers go through a block of active shooter response, both as multiples and solo officers. There's a chance they will be two blocks away and get there before anybody else.

"They're definitely not going to wait outside for other officers. If there's bullets flying they're going to go take care of the threat."

To contact the writer email sedger@dodgeglobe.com