Columbine. Newtown. Parkland. Santa Fe.
With school shootings becoming an all-too-common recurrence across the US, first responders and school personnel are struggling to find ways to address, plan for and prevent this horrifying reality.
- Provide an overview and demonstration of the EDGE technology;
- Discuss how school staff and local first responders can train individually and together to prepare for critical incidents;
- Illustrate unique training strategies for school teachers, administrators, and first responders within the virtual environment; and
- Inform U.S. public safety and education stakeholders about how they may obtain EDGE for free.
We spoke with Milt Nenneman of Homeland Security's Science & technology First Responders Group and Cole Engineering Services EDGE Program Manager Bob Walker to learn more about this innovative approach to preparing first responders and school staff for a possible school shooter incident.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors: Many people have not experienced “virtual training.” When you say “virtual training,” can you help us understand what that might mean or how a trainee experiences it?
Bob Walker: In this context, we are using the term “virtual training” to indicate that the training is similar to live training, with the exception that it is conducted in the virtual versus real world. The term “virtual training” can mean training through the use of virtual or augmented reality (VR / AR) headsets, however, EDGE provides a virtual "environment" in which to conduct training on a desktop or laptop computer using a standard mouse, keyboard and monitor rather than requiring the use of external headsets. You can think of EDGE as being similar to video games like Fortnite or World of Warcraft that your kids (or you) may play, with the exception that EDGE is serious training that is goal-based. The reason we went with a standard computer-based virtual environment as opposed VR/AR is accessibility. This medium gives access to the greatest number of potential users without the need to buy additional hardware that can be quite expensive.
No one knows where the next shooting will occur,
so no one can responsibly neglect to prepare for that
“hoped for never to occur” event.
JCH: Your training is specifically for first responders and school personnel dealing with school shootings. What inspired you to take on this project?
Milt Nenneman: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) works with a group of first responder subject matter experts that help us identify technology capability gaps. This group specifically identified virtual training as a capability gap, which is what got us started on this effort. We were very fortunate to find a very willing and experienced partner in the United States Army, and together we've gotten much further than we would have on our own.
Unfortunately, the increasing incidence of active shooters — in particular, incidents at schools — motivated us to expand our development from the initial hotel environment to the new school environment. It is our hope that this tool may help school staff and first responders minimize and mitigate any critical events and improve response to an active shooter event. All of the people working on this project, from the U.S. Army to DHS S&T to Cole Engineering Services have been inspired to do what they can to help out in this very difficult reality.
And beyond active shooter training, EDGE can be used to prepare for several other emergency response situations, including non-custodial parent disputes, parent–teacher confrontations, parent–parent confrontations, bomb threats, incendiary devices, and many others.
You can think of EDGE as being similar to video games
like Fortnite or World of Warcraft that your kids
(or you) may play,
with the exception that EDGE is serious training
that is goal-based.
JCH: Does virtual training supplant in-person training? Or is this a supplement?
Milt Nenneman: Virtual training does not replace in-person training. This tool was not designed/intended to replace hands-on or in-person training, rather it was designed as a supplement or as another tool to add to the list of available resources to respond to a critical event. EDGE can also be used as a planning tool. The advantage of virtual training is that it is generally easier and cheaper to implement than in-person training, particularly on large-scale events.
Added benefits are that you do not need to distract the school students or staff to conduct the training, and the training can be quickly replicated to reinforce positive or correct negative behaviors. One further benefit of virtual training is that while there may be some logistical challenges to set up a virtual training session, they are significantly less than conducting planning and logistics for a large exercise.
JCH: How will schools and first responders be able to gain access to your program?
Milt Nenneman: Schools will be able to access EDGE through their administrators. Administrators can request an EDGE account at email@example.com.
We do request that school administrators have an emergency plan in place as well as a course of instruction that precedes the training. EDGE is a vehicle to conduct training, it is not a training course in itself. The tool requires that instruction is provided on policies, protocols and procedures. Through the use of the avatars, school staff can execute the training they received.
It is our hope that this tool may help school staff
and first responders minimize and mitigate
any critical events and improve response
to an active shooter event.
In your experience, what are some of the unique challenges school personnel face in training for active shooter events?
Milt Nenneman: Probably one of the biggest challenges and obstacles for school staff is the time and opportunity to receive training for active shooters. Fortunately, historically this is not been a critical training need for school teachers. Unfortunately, that seems to be no longer the case.
Another obstacle and challenge is this is not an area where there is a breadth and depth of knowledge on-site within the average school, so access to quality training is also limited.
Finally, this is a sensitive area and it is probably uncomfortable for many teachers to think about, let alone participate in training in active shooter and other critical events.
What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about preparing for events like school shootings are?
Milt Nenneman: Probably the biggest one, and the most difficult to overcome, is the belief that "it won't happen here." No one knows where the next shooting will occur, so no one can responsibly neglect to prepare for that “hoped for never to occur” event.
Another misconception is that it doesn't matter what you do, the outcome will be the same. While it is true that our impact on events may not be able to prevent all shootings on campus, proper education, training and response can mitigate and minimize the loss of life at a given event. Any life saved is worth the time it takes to make that happen. A timely lockdown or evacuation can remove children from the threat, and that may just have to be enough sometimes.
Click Here to Watch "Giving First Responders and Schools an EDGE on Active Shooter Training."