As we begin another season of dance, I want to ask you “Are you ready?” Are you ready for the hustle and bustle in the hallways, the questions, the schedule, the lesson planning, the choreography, the excited faces of your students. For most of you, the answer was YES to all of the above questions. It is a very busy time of year filled with excitement, hope, and wonder.
I am getting ready to start my 30th year in business and am so excited to dive in and get started. There was one thing I wasn’t ready for that happened last week. We had an active shooter in our town while I was at the studio with 50 students and 4 teachers in the building with me. I did create a crisis plan years ago and trained my team, but I was NOT READY when it happened.
We live in a small community and the feeling is that anything like that would never happen here, but last week it did. I was in the middle of a parade rehearsal with my students and just getting ready to take them outside to practice the routine in our parking lot when I got a text that said there was an active shooter in our town. It stated that there were multiple injuries, and that multiple agencies had been called including the SWAT team from a nearby town. This incident was about 2 miles from the studio.
I am going to share my story with you and then I am going to share my plan and what I learned to help you feel more ready for an emergency while you are teaching. This will be a longer blog than I usually write, but my hope is that it will help you be ready in case something like this happens to you.
After I received the text message, I immediately went and locked our front
door while the students were dancing and alerted one of the other teachers in the building. When the routine was done, I had them sit down and I told them there was an emergency and explained that I needed them to sit and stay calm and follow any direction that I gave them. I left the teacher with them as I went around our building alerting the other teachers and students. I had all of the students come to the same room and sit against the wall quietly. Two teachers in the room with students and two teachers in the lobby watching the door.
Once everyone was in place, I texted one of my managers and asked her to text the families of the students that were in the building to let them know the situation and that we were locked down safely. I also had her tell them that if they wished to pick up their child they needed to text the studio and then come to the door to get them. During this time, I also continued to watch any news reports and stayed informed of the situation. I called the police station to let them know what we were doing and asked for a status report.
We stayed locked down for about two hours. Some parents came and got their child during that time. I continued to have our manager communicate with the families remotely while I kept our students calm. My main focus was for our students to feel and be safe. I reassured them that they were safe with us and that we had a plan.
About 30 minutes into this lockdown time an SUV came rushing in the parking lot and backed up right on our sidewalk in a rushed manner. This startled our teacher that was guarding the door. When I saw the car backing up I looked out and saw that it was a dance dad that I knew and reassured her that he was here to pick up his child. I gathered his child and sent him out the door. I thought he parked close to keep her safe as she entered his car. Five minutes went by and he was still sitting there. He then texted me to tell me that he was still there to make sure we were safe. I asked if they wanted to come back where it was safe and he replied that he wanted to help protect us. He said that he was legally and safely armed and that he would not let an intruder in the building.
This gave me chills and a sense of relief came over me as I knew how much he cared about me, my business, and our students. He proceeded to say that we were like family and he would make sure we were safe. We got the all clear after just over 2 hours and were able to release the rest of the students and staff.
Since this incident, I have received several messages about how well I handled the situation from parents and grandparents. They were all impressed with how calm the communication was and that we had a plan
to keep their kids safe.
1. Keep everyone calm and safe
2. Lockdown the studio
3. Inform the parents
4. Stay informed on what is going on with the active shooter
5. If we heard they were heading toward the studio, we were moving to
the back hallway.
6. If we saw anyone that appeared to be an intruder, we were moving to
our back hallway near our emergency exit door.
7. All students and staff would run out the exit door and run to safety.
What I did next to GET READY:
This situation shook me up quite a bit. I knew that I was in charge of making sure everyone was safe. When I thought about it, I did not feel ready for that. I was not sure if what I did was the right thing to do. I followed the plan I made years ago and I followed my gut instinct, but I did think I could do better.
With it being kick off season, I wanted to make sure my staff was ready in case anything like this happened again, so I contacted our County Sheriff and had him come to the studio. I told him my story, showed him my plan and he walked me through different things that I can do to prepare my staff and students.
Some of the things included physical things I could adapt in my studio, others were tactical things to know and teach my team in case we were faced with an intruder. He taught me about the ALICE method that they teach in schools.
A-Alert - Alert the people in the building
I-Inform the authorities - (Call 911) For me, this also means informing parents of students in our care.
C-Counter - He said this is a way to distract or counter the intruder. This may be barricading doors, throwing objects at the intruder, or even spraying wasp spray in their eyes to distract and buy us time.
E-Evacuate - Find the nearest exit and run. Run as far as you can away from the intruder. He said be mindful of what you hear, see and smell. If you see a clear path and hear gunshots on the other end of the building, evacuate. He suggested getting deadbolt locks on the studio doors that you can lock from the inside in case you have to lockdown and can’t evacuate.
I am taking what I learned in my experience plus what he taught me to train my staff at our upcoming kick off. My suggestion to anyone that is reading this to do the same. Make a plan and practice the plan so you are ready in case something happens. I am also going to train my older students so they are prepared and can assist in case something happens when we have young students in the building.
We have plans to have the Sheriff come back later in the fall to do the training with my staff. He offered to go through different scenarios with them so they can learn from him and feel more informed.
This is a serious situation that we all need to be ready for. I hope that this helps you get ready for a great season. As they say, knowledge is power. When you have the knowledge and a plan, it will give you peace of mind as you head into a new season.
Pam Simpson is the founder, president, and driving force behind Forte Arts Center, which was established in Morris, Illinois in 1993. In addition to building her business from a small, one room studio to a large, multi-location organization that offers dance, tumbling and cheer programs as well as private music lessons, Pam is a leading force in the realm of small business ownership in the dance and tumbling industries as she travels all over the country speaking to and educating for large organizations such as Rhee Gold Company, Dance Teacher Summit, and More Than Just Great Dancing. When not working on her businesses, Pam enjoys spending time with her family and visiting her daughter, who is a performer at Walt Disney World.