Like the duck-and-cover exercises of the Cold War era, lockdown drills for gun violence have become commonplace in school districts. But not every procedure is the same. Some schools have relatively calm exercises initiated by a code word given over the loud speakers. Other districts bring in police to enact a scenario like a kidnapping or a shooting. After the tragedy in Newton, a number of schools have taken lockdowns to another level, making the drills as real as possible with actors, props, and professional make up.
In Stanislaus County, about an hour and a half from San Francisco, the police and educators went one step further. With the help of a federal grant, they filmed an ultra-realistic simulation of a shooting. The department says the video will help train school staff and first responders, but the violent clips shown by the media have drawn criticism.
Like most schools in the country, The Hart-Ransom K-8 in Modesto has never dealt with gun violence. Almond orchards surround the rural campus, and at recess children play in big grassy fields.
Back before December the staff didn't lock classroom doors or gates. Visitors could get on campus without going by the main office.
Superintendent Ream Lochery walks through the school with me, making sure the gates leading off campus are locked.
"Our safety committee convened right after Newtown, like almost every district's safety committee did, we just tightened up," Lochery says.
His school is just a few miles down the road from where the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department filmed the training video just a few weeks ago.
The Modesto Bee came out to cover the training exercise and posted video clips of it on their website. It's the nightmare scenario. Two darkly dressed characters are waving guns. Some children run to take cover. Others lie on the grass and concrete with gruesome injuries: gunshot wounds, a spinal cord injury, spilled out intestines. One student has sheet metal protruding from the neck to simulate the aftermath of a pipe bomb explosion.
Lieutenant Mike Radford directs school response training at the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department. He decided to intensify the scenario after attending Urban Shield, a program that simulates large-scale disasters like terrorist attacks or earthquakes. To do professional make up, Radford brought in a local costume shop called Daydreams and Nightmares. They are renown for their intensely convincing reproductions of gore.
"To get the best training value out of anything you have to make it as realistic as possible," Radford says.
To control the scenario, Radford used children from a community acting program to play the students. He had them sit on the grass in front of the school and have a picnic.
Then, without telling them it was coming, he set off two stun grenades -- loud explosions that set everyone in motion.
"We got fantastic human reaction from these kids," Radford says. "We had a couple of our actors portraying bad guys come out yelling and screaming."
Police departments and school districts have been training regularly for shootings ever since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High, but the nature of these trainings and the level of preparation vary widely.
Radford says one thing they have learned at their department is the need for more intelligence, specifically on the layouts of every school. Like many police departments, they do not have digital copies of blueprints that could be loaded up in a squad car.
"Most guys don't even know what the schools look like," Radford says.
In Modesto, community members criticized the training scenario both for its public nature and for the school chosen for the exercise.
The training was done at the Peterson School for Alternative Education, which is attended mainly by children expelled from other schools or who are incarcerated at the nearby juvenile hall.
The Stanislaus County Department of Education declined to be interviewed for this story, and they blocked interviews with teachers and staff who took part in the exercise. But video of the event has already circled widely in the press.
The clips taken by the Modesto Bee aired on the Today show and the BBC, and have since been reposted all over the Internet. Critics questioned if publicizing such graphic content might encourage more violence.
Lieutenant Radford defends the final video they are working to produce as a valuable learning tool. He hopes to bring in more first responder agencies in future training exercises.
"I learned that as big as we had it, I want it bigger," he says. "I want more people involved."
Dana Walters owns Daydreams and Nightmares, the costume shop that did the make up for the training exercise. Her 13-year-old daughter Jade Rogers played one of the wounded children.
Walters says even though she supports this kind of training, it wasn't easy to watch her daughter lie out there with a fake bullet wound to the head.
"I was having a really hard time with that," Walters says. "I'm sitting there going, 'I know this is fake,' but she laid there for two hours."
Rogers and her friend, who also acted in the exercise, say the simulation was more realistic then they expected. There were lots of SWAT cars, and Rogers lay there dead-still for so long that she has a tan line on her arm from the caked-on fake blood.
She says before this, she hadn't though much about school shootings. She does now though.
Lieutenant Radford hopes to have the video finished before the next school year. He plans to make it available for educators and police forces everywhere.