“Because you have taken these steps, you are better prepared than most communities. A lot of communities have nothing prepared.”
Boardman police and the Boardman Local School District engaged in a mock ‘active shooter’ drill last week (Wed., Apr. 3) at Boardman High School, designed to test capabilities in the township, should a school hostage/shooting situation take place.
It was the second such training session for the police department, as it staged another series of drills at Market St. Elementary School following the tragedy at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
As well, teachers in the Boardman Local School district have also been provided with a least two training sessions/scenarios for extreme situations.
The two and a half hour session held last Wednesday was developed by a former Boardman police officer, Don Fisher.
Fisher, a 1966 graduate of Boardman High School, served the Boardman Police Department from 1970 to 1979 and during his duties here was held with a gun to his head as a hostage at the Boardman School Bus garage in the mid 1970s. He left the local department to join the Central Intelligence Agency where he served for more than 30 years, retiring in Dec., 2012. During his career there, he served in virtually every armed conflict America was involved.
Fisher said the purpose of last week’s exercise at Boardman High School was designed to test policies and procedures of the Boardman police and fire department; as well as Boardman Local School procedures for a lockdown of the facility, emergency evacuation, and policies for reuniting students with their parents, should a catastrophic incident occur.
Last week’s scenario at Boardman High School involved several shooting victims inside the school...where the bodies of wounded students littered the hallway and Principal Tim Saxton was shot dead in his office.
The training session also had another twist, there were two shooters inside the school, not one; and at some point, a fire began.
In addition to local police and school officials, also on hand for last week’s scenario were many, area law enforcement agencies, as well as the FBI.
Boardman Police Chief Jack Nichols said the scenario will help police and school officials to deal with communication issues.
“Frequently so many kids begin to text or call their parents, that communication can become difficult,” Chief Nichols said, adding “All the telecommunications systems could become overloaded. However, we must also be mindful that many of such types of calls could provides us with critical information and tips”
As was evident during he training exercise last week, law enforcement officers respond to such a call with a threefold purpose:
1) Neutralize or contain the threat. That could include killing the shooter on the spot.
2) Evacuate the injured.
3) Evacuate students and staff who had been lockdown inside the school.
It was clear from the exercise that law enforcement will place themselves in the line of fire in every effort to save the lives of anyone inside the school.
As the emergency scenario evolved, Boardman Local School officials made frequent efforts to inform school families of the situation, through telephone calls and text messages.
“After studying the results of this exercise, we hope to develop a communication/message system to keep our school families informed,” said Supt. Frank Lazzeri.
As law enforcement officials scoured Boardman High School looking for the shooters, teachers and students who took part and were not injured, locked themselves in classrooms and barricaded doors.
Law enforcement seemed to quickly locate and neutralize one shooter. A second suspect took about 35-40 minutes to apprehend.
Among the dead and injured during the mock exercise was Boardman High School Principal Tim Saxton.
His death meant that communications to students and staff in the building, from the school’s public address system, could have potentially been disabled.
“This was a very good exercise,” Supt. Lazzeri said. “We will learn lessons from this that we can now apply to every building in the district.
“As we go forward we will write policy and be better prepared if something like this happens, God forbid.”
After the disaster scenario played out, teachers and law enforcement officials spent the afternoon in a classroom, discussing what had happened.
Fisher, FBI Agent Todd Werth and Lt. Troy Duncan, of the Chardon Police Department led the discussion.
It was in Feb., 2012 a student at Chardon entered the high school armed with a .22 calibre weapon. He was only in the school for some 30 seconds and his barrage of bullets killed three students and left three others wounded.
Lt. Duncan noted prior to the shooting there, students had participated in several emergency drills.
“So what happened on the day we had an actual event,” Lt.. Duncan asked?
“Everyone went back to what we did during the drills. We hoped it saved some lives, after all, it took just a half a minute to leave three students dead.
“You will find that after your exercise at Boardman High School, you now have a better idea of how to handle this type of situation.
“This kind of exercise will help student and staff to stay more calm during a period of crisis.”
Thanks to the emergency exercise in Chardon, Lt. Duncan pointed-out that within three hours of that tragedy, students were being re-united with their families.
A problematic issue gleaned from the exercise, seemed to be dealing with injured persons inside the school.
During the review session, much discussion was given to who comes to the aid of the injured.
Law enforcement’s first charge is to locate and neutralize the threat. That could mean leaving the injured where they lay.
Should teachers and staff leave their classrooms and students, and potentially place the lives of students in additional jeopardy (by leaving a door to a classroom open)?
Law enforcement indicated some of the injured could be moved behind a barrier or other more safe haven, but their first responsibility is to find the shooter.
“What you do is what best serves the overall school population,” Lt. Duncan said, adding “If you can treat someone, treat them, but you first have to insure overall safety.”
The Chardon police officer said “You will save more lives going into a lockdown and eliminate a target-rich environment.”
Fisher said experience shows that making sure hallways are clear is very important.
“It takes time for law enforcement to deal with people, because at first, anyone in a hallway could be a potential suspect. So it’s important for a school system to develop specific policies.”
FBI Agent Werth said law enforcement must have manpower that is assigned “specific tasks.”
All of the planning and training cannot eliminate all the threats.
“In real life, it happens very quickly,” Lt. Duncan said, adding from his experience “In a catastrophic event, a swarm of people will respond. Setting-up a central command will help to control the gathering storm.”
He added, “Because you have taken these steps, you are better prepared than most communities. A lot of communities have nothing prepared,” Lt. Duncan said.