University of Montana Provost Perry Brown jammed his knee into the man and continued to push the mock aggressor to the ground – just as the Armed Intruder Training Group had taught him.

President Royce Engstrom practiced elbow strikes into the air waiting his turn. 

“We are here to try and teach you how to turn the tide of aggression,” said David Conway, a deputy with the Missoula County Sheriff's Office, as he lead roughly 20 UM employees in combat training.   

Administration and faculty members lined the walls of a room in the University Center on Monday afternoon for a day-long defense training course offered by the Armed Intruder Training Group. The course is an effort to provide people within the Missoula County Public Schools with enough knowledge to protect themselves and students before police arrive to a deadly encounter.

“The people who are actually the first responders are the people there when the shooting starts, and most of the time they don’t have any training,” Conway said.

The course was designed in reaction to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy where standard procedure failed and 26 people where killed, said MCSO Capt. Brad Giffin.

On average someone is killed every 15 seconds when an armed person enters a building, Giffin said. The sheriff's office conducted the defensive training to help minimize the amount of time an intruder has to inflict harm students and staff at UM, he said.

Someone who enters a building with a gun, with the intent to kill, is looking to stack up a high body count and fast, he said.

“The shooter will go after those who are easy targets – such as someone hiding under a table,” said Mark Puddy, an officer with the Missoula Police Department. “We are trying to change the victim mentality and institute a survival-based mentality.”

“Ready – go,” the trainers took turns yelling.

The room filled with sudden movement as the UM staff began to throw hammer fist punches and groin knee strikes. As trained, each strike was accompanied by one syllable like “no” or “stop”.

The mind can only consciously do one thing at a time – attack or defend, the instructor said – the goal is to put the intruder on defense. 

Dean of Students at Helena College Elizabeth Stearns Sims removed her jacket before steeping in front of another UM employee.

“I feel like I should introduce myself before hitting you,” said Stearns Sims to her opponent.   

Stearn Sims said the day was a reminder to 1984 when she was attacked at gunpoint. 

“It is empowering to know how to protect yourself,” she said. “If I had known how to disarm someone, maybe the outcome of my attack would have been different.” 

The training group is comprised of Missoula Country Sheriff’s Office, the Missoula Police Department, University Police and administrators within Missoula public schools. The course also comes at no cost to the University, since trainers are paid by their departments. 

President Royce Engtrom said similar training had been done at UM before. He said the response before was so favorable that he felt representatives from all UM affiliated schools should go through self-defense training.

“It gives you the opportunity to actually experience what it might be like,” Engstrom said as school employees behind him practiced disarming a police officer holding a fake assault riffle while wearing a full body protective suit.

In the room next door, 20 employees listened to another trainer instruct them on how to patch gunshot wounds. 

Capt. Robert Taylor, with the MCSO, said school's can take safety steps like adding trauma supplies that could help someone with a bullet wound to the chest to the general office first aid kit that has aspirin. 

When it comes down to safety, individuals are responsible to protect themselves, Taylor said.

“Stick your resources in people,” Taylor said. “You can harden this place and make it look like the president's bunker under the White House, but there’s going to be some person that figures out how to get in and some person will be the one to stop him.” 

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