SAN JOSE -- With the possibility of a school shooting like Sandy Hook weighing heavily on their minds, Santa Clara County police agencies and school districts have unified their "active shooter" survival plans, which includes designating teachers as a last line of defense against a violent gunman.
In some ways, it's simply articulating a common-sense instinct to protect students and children. Still, formally codifying that role, with directives such as "improvise weapons," "grab the shooter's limbs and head, take them to the ground," and even enlisting the help of physically strong students, is relatively unprecedented.
In a Thursday training presentation, held in downtown San Jose for more than 300 educators and others who care for children, it was stressed that these are measures of last resort. But it reflected a sobering new reality for school safety after the horrors of the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Mass. in which a gunman killed 20 children and six adults.
The December attack spurred local law enforcement -- led jointly by the San Jose Police Department and the University Police Department at San Jose State -- to revamp the active-shooter protocol in the South Bay and get schools, museums, and other organizations that shepherd children to operate by a uniform playbook in the face of a rampaging gunman.
"It gets everybody thinking: 'What if it happened to me, what would I do?'" said Marisa Hanson, president of the teachers union for San Jose's East Side Union High School District, the largest high school district in Northern California. "If somebody's coming into the room, that's a huge thing to deal with."
The new protocol, dubbed "Run, Hide, Defend," unifies disparate contingency plans across school districts and other organizations like the Children's Discovery Museum and the Tech Museum, which share the distinction of being confined areas hosting school-age children.
The "Run" and "Hide" components, which encompass most of the plan, are more or less intuitive, focusing on evacuation and barricading classrooms and similar areas. This newspaper is not explaining the protocol in detail because it contains sensitive tactics that could be rendered ineffective if they were publicly disclosed.
Also outlined in the plan are "red flags" for educators and caretakers to look out for that might telegraph future violence, such erratic behavior and an obsession with violence.
But the "Defend" component, which the training again stresses is a last resort, advises a literal plan of attack if a gunman breaches the protective measures put in place. That includes moves to disorient shooters and overpowering them, with the help of able-bodied students if possible.
"Everything that's happened in the past few years, this is a natural progression of this conversation," said Chris Funk, superintendent of the East Side Union. "In most of these cases that have been documented, the reality is that the shooter either stopped, left, or turned the gun on themselves before officers arrived. If that's the case, you need to develop a plan that has clear guidelines and suggestions on what to do if you come in contact with an active shooter face to face."
San Jose police Sgt. Jason Pierce, who supervises his department's school liaison unit, said the new active-shooter plan was made purposely simple and streamlined to blend it into existing school drills.
"It's quick, and we want everybody doing the same thing," Pierce said. "We want them to be physically and mentally prepared."
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.