An ordinary school day. Students hurrying through the halls, earning a “no running!” warning from a teacher. Study groups meeting in the library. Classroom lessons underway.
And suddenly, the sound of gunfire.
The state of Illinois mandates that all schools hold drills every year: fire drills, tornado drills, active shooter drills. Although the odds are against any of these events striking any one school during a given school day, preparing, planning and practicing help ensure that teachers, students and staff know how to react if called on to do so. “Plan, Prepare, Act,” an 11-minute video produced by the Orland Park Police Department with donated assistance from local business Eyelight Studios, encourages viewers to think about evacuating safely, locating safe hiding places and planning how to fight back if absolutely necessary. Available for viewing at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0NPcbAuJ84, the video received the People’s Choice Award in the 36th Annual Telly Awards competition held in 2015.
In the introduction to the video, Orland Park Police Chief Timothy McCarthy says that although it’s hard to even think about the possibility of a school shooting, planning what to do before an incident occurs is critical.
“Active shooters, school shootings and of course school safety in general is a high priority here,” McCarthy says in an interview. “We wanted to create something for schools to use outside of the annual drill, where we go out to the schools and practice with them. We wanted to tell them about all the options available, then give them time to study them and think about them. If an incident ever does happen, it’s not likely the police will be there at the onset. In those first few minutes, administrators have to make life or death decisions. It’s important for them to receive information ahead of time and to have time to review it. We don’t want them to considering their options for the first time while a crisis takes place.”
With the message in mind and Commander Joe Mitchell overseeing the production process, Orland Park recruited volunteers from among officers’ family members to play the roles of administrators, teachers and students, and obtained cooperation from Orland Park Fire Protection and other local emergency services agencies. Although the department incurred some production costs, overall expenses remained low, and the video itself is made freely available to local schools in the suburb of 50,000-plus residents, located 25 miles southwest of Chicago.
“We passed it out to every school in our community. We’ll pass it out to anyone who wants it, frankly. Our local schools are using it on a regular basis on institute days, where they play it as a refresher. We don’t want it to sit in a drawer at the school, instead we want it to be used on a routine basis,” McCarthy says.
Not keeping the video in a drawer and showing it to staff repeatedly also ensures that substitutes come in for their fair share of training and repetition: “When subs come in, we want them to know the policies too. Substitutes are used far more than most of us realize. When it’s flu season, teachers get the flu too, and on any given day, substitutes could make up a significant part of the staff working in a school.”
The need to train substitutes, plan in advance and practice plans is shared by schools throughout the nation, and McCarthy encourages departments and school systems across the country to use the “Plan, Prepare, Act” video: “Different departments respond differently, of course, but the video covers the basics of school safety, lockdown drills, rapid deployment and evacuation. These are almost universal principles being used across the country.”
“Plan, Prepare, Act” is the second video produced by the Orland Park Police Department, following a video on community drug concerns and the heroin epidemic produced several years ago. Public Information Officer Margie Owens submitted it for the Telly Award, and he was “surprised and proud” over the win and the way the video has resonated in the community.
“We’re very proud of “Plan, Prepare, Act” and the award, and we hope it’s something that people find useful for a long time,” he says.