School District in El Paso Hosts Mass Shooting Preparedness

The two dozen adults and kids seated in the Del Valle High School library on a recent Wednesday evening weren't at the typical back-to-school presentation.

The El Paso Times reports one of the first items on the agenda was a review of the number of casualties in recent mass shootings.

Last month's event was the second of a series of active shooter training exercises the Ysleta Independent School District Office of Emergency Operations and Preparedness has organized, through mid-October, to educate the public on how to respond in an emergency situation to prevent the loss of life.

"I've done these presentations for four, five years and I always hear it from the crowd: `It's never going to happen here in El Paso; it can't happen here; El Paso is a safe city,"' El Paso Police Sgt. Alfred Chavez said during the Sept. 25 training exercise. "And look at what we went through last month.

"In the world we live in today, we got to be prepared for (mass shootings). Hopefully we never see it here again, but we got to understand that it's going to happen somewhere."

Juan Jimenez, a YISD parent, attended with his wife and their 7 and 13-year old sons. It's part of the family's effort to know what to do in a range of emergency situations, Jimenez said, which includes being trained in first aid.

Having conversations with your children on how to react in a shooting isn't easy and can be scary, Jimenez said, but is better than completely avoiding the subject.

"He's going to see it on TV anyway, so it's better that this way he can have some training," he said of his elementary school aged son. "TV just scares you; here it's a teaching moment."

Jimenez likens it to knowing how to use a fire extinguisher: you hope you never have to use it, but in the chance you do, you want to be prepared.

His sons said the training motivated them to take "stop the bleed" training.

Chavez, along with Ron Livermore, the director of YISD's office of emergency operations and preparedness, emphasized that having a plan on how to act in an active shooter situation saves lives.

Livermore walked attendees through what happens to the body in a high-stress situation and highlighted the need to stay calm so you don't freeze in fear, a physical reaction that happens as your heart rate rises. Knowing where exits are is crucial, whether you're at a restaurant, concert, movie theater, store or church, he said, in reference to the places where recent shootings have occurred.

The Cielo Vista Walmart, where 22 people were killed Aug. 3 when a gunman opened fire, had about a dozen exits but only six to seven were actually used, Livermore said.

The community training had been in the works before the shooting, said Robert Basurto, YISD associate superintendent of student support services. Senate Bill 11, a wide-ranging school safety bill Texas lawmakers passed this spring, requires school districts to provide training for employees and parents on what to do if there is a violent incident on a campus. YISD had initially planned to begin the training in 2020, but pushed them up after the Walmart shooting, Basurto said.

It is the first El Paso area district to do so, and the events are open all community members, regardless of whether they are part of YISD.

"Unless you actually practice it and you're talking about it and know what to do, when something bad happens your initial reaction is your gut reaction, and it may be the wrong one," Basurto said.

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