Libraries boost training to strengthen security

In yet another sign of the times in which we're living, suburban library officials are updating emergency response plans to strengthen security precautions.

Mundelein's Fremont Public Library is the latest. The library has had tactics for this type of crisis for years - employees are taught to run, then hide, then fight if absolutely necessary - but there is no written set of instructions.

Library Director Scott Davis is rectifying that by compiling current strategies as an appendix to the library's emergency plan. The text could be finalized this month.

In addition to Fremont, libraries in Naperville, Elgin and Lake Zurich are among those preparing employees for armed intruders.

Libraries historically have been safe places for anyone to enjoy, but they're also spacious buildings that attract vast numbers of people and let virtually anyone inside.

"Staff (must) know how to respond if the unthinkable happens," Davis said.

His concern isn't without cause.

In 2017, a gunman fatally shot two people and wounded four others at a library in New Mexico. And librarians in California and Florida were murdered on the job in December and January, respectively.

Although Davis was working on documenting Fremont's active-shooter strategies before the Feb. 15 killings at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, he said that tragedy heightened awareness of the need for training.

As part of Fremont's safety training, employees watch a shockingly realistic how-to video for surviving a mass shooting that was produced by the city of Houston and the U.S. Homeland Security Department.

"It's a sobering video," Davis said. "We let it sink in for a few moments before beginning discussion on what we saw."

Employees at Lake Zurich's Ela Area Public Library rehearse run, hide and fight techniques, practice lockdown procedures and have extensive training sessions with police.

"(We) run through scenarios so that staff continue to be as prepared as possible for what we hope never occurs," Executive Director Matt Womack said.

Workers at Naperville's three public libraries get active-shooter training from local police, too, but they use a method known by the acronym ALICE - Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.

The strategy is part of the district's emergency manual, and two employees are certified ALICE instructors.

Naperville police Cmdr. Mike Son called the need for preparations an "unfortunate" reality.

"Everyone must at least consider the possibility of a tragic incident occurring at their building, workplace, or institution, and take the appropriate measures to prepare themselves," Son said.

Gail Borden Public Library District officials have installed emergency alarms at the main facility in Elgin and two branches. The blue boxes - manufactured by BluePoint Alert Solutions of Elgin in response to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre - resemble wall-mounted fire alarms and can be manually activated during a shooting or other crises.

The alarms go directly to police to trigger quick responses.

BluePoint co-founder John Shales said he wishes there wasn't a need for his product. "But similar to wishing that cancer didn't exist, we still need to face reality," he said.

Julie Rothenfluh, executive director of the Naperville Public Library District, said libraries remain safe spaces for families, book lovers and other patrons.

But Rothenfluh said library employees and patrons also must be prepared for danger "in a way that was not always necessary."

"We have always drilled staff on safety procedures," she said. "We have just had to add a different kind of drill - one that we hope we never have to use."

Naperville Public Library employees practice securing themselves in a room during an active shooter training session led by local police. Courtesy of Naperville Public Library
  Officials with Mundelein's Fremont Public Library are updating their emergency response plan to include, for the first time, tactics for responding to an active shooter. "We are a very soft target," Director Scott Davis said. Russell Lissau/, 2017
Naperville Public Library employees practice taking down a gunman during an active shooter training session led by local police. Courtesy of Naperville Public Library
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