An inside look at the emergency drill

28 Jun

 

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Drill participants were all required to wear a yellow piece of tape on their shoes to prove they belonged in the hot zone.

Yesterday definitely ranks among the top 10 most interesting days of my entire life.

As (I hope) you know, on Thursday, the Webster Central School District (WCSD), in partnership with several local emergency responding agencies, staged a large-scale “aggressively deadly behavior/active shooter” drill at Schlegel Rd. Elementary School. I was fortunate to be invited to participate in that drill.

“Fortunate” might not be a word you’d expect me to use, but that’s kind of how I felt. It was a fascinating experience to be on the inside for one of these drills, and see first-hand the professionalism and tactical skill exhibited by our area police, fire and EMT departments.

For four hours yesterday morning, Schlegel Elementary became Webster High School. A female student, upset that she would not be allowed to graduate, came back to visit the school and took out her frustrations with a gun (which was fake). (The student was played by a law enforcement officer from outside the district.)

When the “shooting” began, the office secretaries immediately tripped the lock-down alarm. Several people were in the halls, and some of them did not survive. Others were just injured. About 60 other “teachers” and “students” were divided among three classrooms spread around the school, safely locked inside their rooms as soon as the alarm was sounded. Still, the shooter was able to tally 13 “victims” before she was overpowered.

It didn’t take long for police officers to subdue her. The classroom I was huddled in was toward the back of the building, so we weren’t really able to hear much in the way of gunshots or screaming, but we could hear officers’ voices outside the door. It seemed less than 20 minutes before they were in control of the scene and they began to clear all the other classrooms to secure our side of the building.

We knew it was a drill, of course. But it seemed real enough when two officers came into our room, (fake) guns raised, told us to put up our hands and escorted us single file to the library. We walked by one bloodied victim still lying in the hallway, and were seated together not far from several other victims with varying degrees of injuries.

Whoever did the makeup, by the way, was pretty masterful. The gunshot wounds were quite convincing. And the staff members who portrayed those victims who were injured but still conscious did a great job of whining, moaning and groaning as they waited for transport to ambulances.

I’m sure you get the sense by now that this was an extremely ambitious event, and it took more than a year to organize. More than 100 WCSD staff members, high school students, student summer maintenance workers and community members participated, acting out a dozen different roles. Five area fire departments alone responded, in addition to the Webster Police Department, Webster Emergency Medical Service, Northeast Quadrant Advanced Life Support, and even the New York State Police. Coordinating such a large response, and making sure all those agencies could communicate with each other was the main purpose of the drill. 

As it turned out, that also proved to be the biggest challenge. Thanks in part to communication issues, things got started a little late, and there were a few re-boots when the scenario had to be re-set. So things didn’t go completely according to plan, but that was to be expected, especially considering the scope of the event and its being the first of its kind in the district.

Despite the hiccups, Brian Zimmer, Webster’s Director of Technology and one of the organizers, said he was “extremely ecstatic” about how well the drill went. “To bring all these agencies together was just a huge win for us,” he added.

“During the drill today we really focused on our communication and our response to a large scale incident,” Zimmer said. “We had a lot of great takeaways from it, we have a lot of good working points and learning points and we’re excited to continue to move forward to make our agency and community even stronger.”

In the follow-up press conference, Webster superintendent Carm Gumina reiterated the significance of the day’s event.

“These drills are important not only for our first responders,” he said, “but also really important for the district to understand our role and all the steps and procedures that we would need to follow in case of an emergency in any one of our 11 buildings.”

I couldn’t agree more.

It’s a sad state of affairs these days that, statistically speaking, a school is much more likely to experience a mass shooting than a fire. We run drills for both, but the shooting possibility is much more frightening.

As a Webster school district staff member, I was comforted to see up-close-and-personally how our staff and students will be kept safe if that were to happen. Glitches or not, district personnel, emergency personnel, officers, firefighters all performed admirably and I left for home that afternoon confident that we were ready.

The district hopes to do another drill in a few years, in a different building with a different scenario. If and when they do, I hope to participate, partly because it’s a unique experience, but also because I like knowing that my small role may someday help keep our schools secure.

WHAM-TV Channel 13 was there for the post-event press conference. Click here to see their story.

 

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The post-event press conference with school district and emergency responding agency representatives.  

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