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School drills plan for 'worst-case scenario'

It was a drill for an event no one ever wants to experience. On July 30, Hillsboro School District, Hillsboro Police Department and Hillsboro Fire & Rescue personnel joined forces to conduct an “active shooter” training drill that included school evacuation and reunifying parents with their children.

In what were the second and third phases of a massive four-phase, multi-agency effort for emergency planning in local schools, more than 100 people took part in a three-hour exercise headed by Casey Waletich, the school district’s safety director, and Sgt. Craig Allen of the police department.Photo Credit: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: KATHY FULLER - Hillsboro Police Officer Victor Kamenir races down a hallway at Liberty High School during a drill that included securing classrooms and evacuating the school.

Liberty High School was the scene of the drill, which included search, secure and evacuation training.

Nearly 40 police officers took part in the training, with another 40 youth volunteers from the Inukai Family Boys & Girls Club acting as students.

As part of the operation, police entered the school, located and subdued an “active shooter,” and then searched and secured one wing of classrooms.

Officers weren’t sure of the situations they’d face as they entered each classroom. In one room they found a teacher whose leg had been injured, while in another, a student with diabetes was displaying signs of diabetic emergency.

In both cases, police had to get emergency medical personnel safely to the scene to tend and then evacuate the victims.

Once classrooms had been checked and secured, the school was evacuated and students were placed on school buses to be transported to another site, where they could be reunified with their parents.

Allen said he believed the inclusive drill went pretty well “75 percent of the time.”Photo Credit: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: KATHY FULLER - Members of the parent reunification team listen to instructions prior to the beginning of a small-scale drill on July 30.

“It put theory to the test,” Allen said. “Quite frankly, it’s good (we got it 75 percent right). If we say it was perfect, we’re fooling ourselves.”

Allen said officers were able to refine their techniques for searching classrooms, making them more efficient.

Reunification with parents

The second part of the drill — reunifying students with their parents — happened off-site. About 25 school district employees worked to connect “parents” — played by members of the city of Hillsboro and community CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) teams — with their “children.”

Paperwork was neatly filled out as parents waited calmly to be escorted to their waiting children. Missing, however, were the crowds of upset parents that would likely gather in a real-life situation. But the drill, Waletich said, “gave the district a look at the general layout and procedure. We found a lot we can improve on in terms of time and flow.”

Realistically, he said, even a full-scale drill would not be able to replicate the “sheer numbers (of students and parents) and the panic. We’ll never get that.”

In the case of a real evacuation of a school, Waletich explained, it’s important for parents to know not to head to the school.

“The kids won’t be there,” he said.

A crowd of roughly 40 observers from several area police agencies and school districts watched both drills, far more people than Waletich expected.

“The allure was that nobody has ever done this” on this scale, he pointed out. “In the wake of Reynolds (a recent shooting incident at a high school in Troutdale), there’s interest in what we are doing.”

The practices were the final layers of multi-agency training that started six years ago, “when we set out to look at an active shooter” scenario, Allen said.

Three years ago, a full-scale school shooting simulation was staged at South Meadows Middle School involving police, fire and emergency medical personnel, along with more than 100 volunteers.

The goal of the exercise was to envision, from beginning to end, a scenario in which a shooter injures people inside a school. Police practiced securing the buildings in a timely manner so emergency medical personnel could safely tend to and transport those who had been injured.

Next steps

“What I really want to make clear is, this was a drill to plan for a future drill,” Waletich explained.

Already in the works is a full-scale exercise that would combine all three phases of emergency response within the next year.

A videographer recorded the July 30 event for a video that will give school staff “the general nuts and bolts” of how an evacuation and reunification would work.

A school safety brochure will be distributed to parents explaining terms such as “lock-in” and “lock-out,” as well as reunification information.

“The key is managing information and communication,” Waletich said. “During an incident, the greatest communicators are the students.”

He noted that many, if not most, students have cell phones or access to one.

What theoretically should happen, Waletich explained, is that once a classroom is secured during an emergency, students would be directed to text their parent or guardian, tell them they are safe and unharmed, and asking them to avoid coming to the school. Instead, they would direct their parents to the reunification location.

“We’re doing the things we feel are necessary,” Waletich said of the district’s safety planning efforts. “We’re not there yet. But we do put more priority on this. The superintendent and board have committed the time and resources on planning for this.”



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