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Active shooter drills prepare schools for the worst, but take a toll on students

As the country grapples with the tragic shooting in Uvalde, Texas, deputies in Pierce County are working to secure schools as best they can.

TACOMA, Wash. — As the fallout from one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history continues, the Pierce County Sheriff's Department (PCSD) is working to keep school buildings as safe as possible.

That means extensive preparation and learning from past tragedies.

"One of the things that we learned from Columbine is that they did their emergency drill, which was get under the table and hide, and that doesn’t work," said PCSD Spokesperson Sgt. Darren Moss. "Unfortunately, that was one of the reasons why so many people were hurt."

For over a decade, school resource officers have been running active shooter drills in schools. Students and staff are trained to use different options that range from running away, fighting the shooter or hiding.

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“When you or I were in school, we didn’t have to do these drills," said Moss. "When our parents and grandparents were in school, they didn’t have to do these drills. But it’s such a common occurrence that [students and teachers] have to know what to do to protect themselves.”

But mental health counselor Latonya Littleton said that while she sees the value of preparation, the drills can take a toll on a student's mental and emotional well-being.

“For some students, they feel safer because they know what to do, and sometimes, the teachers provide reassurance of what their role is when there's an active shooter," said Littleton. "For others, there’s a level of fear because some of them have not really been exposed to the idea that there could be a school shooting, and this is an introduction of what could actually happen to them.”

Moss said he’s seen how traumatizing this all can be but added it’s critical schools and law enforcement are prepared because doing nothing isn’t an option.

“I’ve been in some of these schools when they do these drills, and some of the kids are actually terrified,” explained Moss. "The other option is to not prepare and wait for somebody else to do something or make a new law or figure out a different way to solve the problem. Until we find out a solution to the problem, the sheriff's department and our schools need to be ready to act when something bad happens."

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