New Richmond presentation aims to arm citizens with knowledge for active shooter events
NEW RICHMOND — Schools aren't the only places active-shooter incidents occur.
While events like February's massacre in Florida drew the focus to school buildings, the possibility for similar attacks — like those that have happened in workplaces, churches, malls and movie theaters — is just as possible, New Richmond Police Chief Craig Yehlik points out.
So why shouldn't the rest of the community be given the same safety tools students and school staff receive?
That's the driving force behind a seminar Yehlik is presenting next week at New Richmond High School.
"The next logical step is to teach the community how to respond," the chief said.
The program, Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events, being held in two sessions Monday, April 16, will harness the unique training Yehlik received from the FBI and other specialized programs.
The event, free and open to all adults and some students, will open with the history of active-shooter incidents before transitioning into what Yehlik calls "civilian response options." That relies on the "avoid-deny-defend" concept the chief said anyone can put into action if the situation calls for it.
"It's a way to process a crisis," Yehlik said. "It gives you the tools to stay alive until the cops arrive."
WESTconsin Credit Union New Richmond Office Vice President Marie Gremore had Yehlik give her employees the training a couple years back. The fact that it touches on crisis events beyond active shooter situations — she said the fatal 2003 Station nightclub fire was a reminder to check early for exits — made it practical and important.
"It is so important to know what you're looking for and to be aware of your surroundings," Gremore said. "I think everyone got a little something out of it."
The concept is a familiar one to New Richmond School District Administrator Patrick Olson. He's been trained on ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) planning for several years and said he was happy to offer the high school for Yehlik's communitywide program.
Olson said he recognizes the topic can be uncomfortable for some people to discuss. But, he said, it needs to happen.
"You can't be naive enough to think it can't happen here," Olson said.
Monday's program is open to the public, though organizers said the content isn't for most children. High school seniors can attend, but students aged 16 and up must be accompanied by a parent.
Yehlik and Olson said they encourage parents who attend to share the information at home with children in their own words. For starters, Olson said that means telling someone when something doesn't seem right.
"Bring it to someone's attention," he said. "We need the help of everyone."
In other words, Yehlik said, "see something, say something."
What Yehlik has to share isn't run-of-the-mill stuff.
The FBI National Academy graduate said he's one of just a handful of law enforcement officials in Wisconsin who's been trained in a rapid-response program. The 20-year law enforcement veteran is a certified CRASE (Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events) instructor through Texas State University's Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training.
Yehlik first offered community-level training a couple years ago after he and Gremore teamed up, realizing it would have wide appeal. Olson opened up the high school auditorium for that event and invited high school seniors.
"In today's world, it's important information to have," Gremore said.
Yehlik said he's been especially motivated to pass along the knowledge after hearing at a conference the message from the parent of a child killed in Sandy Hook. That woman challenged law enforcement officials to work with schools on active shooter training and family reunification plans after mass casualty events.
"I called Patrick and said 'we're doing all of these,'" Yehlik said.
Yehlik and Olson said the effort has evolved into a collaboration among the police department, other law enforcement agencies, the city of New Richmond and the school district. They're hoping the partnership can become a model for other communities to employ.
"We need a community that is proactive," Olson said.