Kids, teachers help lawmen practice for a Columbine-like emergency
November 19, 2010
As part of a realistic emergency drill at South Summit High School in Kamas, the sound of gunshots echoed through the hallways as frantically screaming students scrambled toward doorways, seeking the safety of the classroom.
"Teachers, go to lockdown. Teachers, go to lockdown," reverberated through the speakers inside and out of the school.
As part of the drill, a man playing the role of a crazed gunman swept through the corridors, yelling for someone named Wade and randomly firing his rifle. Shell casings showered the ground as frightened students still in the hallway tried to get away.
The police responded quickly, sweeping through the school in twos looking for the gunman. As more authorities filtered into the school, smoke filled the hallway, limiting visibility. After half-a-dozen waves of officers disappeared into the opaque air, a few resounding blanks pierced the silence.
The exercise was over.
The principal’s voice boomed the all-clear through the intercom. Students immediately began chatting, laughing and reliving the experience.
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Fortunately Wednesday’s crisis wasn’t real. The guns were loaded with blanks. The wounds on the students were mixtures of make-up and dyed corn syrup. Administrators wearing bright orange vests lined the walls of the school while officers filed outside to review the drill.
"This is a critical issue we have to be ready for," said Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds. "As we progress into the 21st century, scenario-based training is where training is going to go."
The Utah School Boards joined administrators from six school districts in the area (South Summit, Nebo, Park City, Wasatch and Grand) as well as 10 law enforcement agencies (Park City, Kamas and Heber City police departments; Summit, Grand, Utah, Wasatch and Duschesne county sheriff’s offices) for the emergency response training. Members of the Utah Highway Patrol and Adult Probations and Parole also participated.
A group of more than 100 students, faculty and community members created a typical school environment for lawmen to realistically sweep through during the four different scenarios.
Each scenario began with an active gunman inside the school and one on the roof. As officers penetrated the school in search of the gunmen, students were instructed to cry out for help, reaching and struggling to grab onto an authority figure for comfort and protection.
"We told these kids to actually beg," Sergeant Shaun Bufton of the Utah County Metro SWAT said after the first run-through. "We told them to try to really persuade you to help them."
After neutralizing both threats, officers then identified who needed medical attention. Six students were designated as victims with injuries oozing dyed corn syrup and make-up that looked like open wounds. One teacher was posed lying in the front hallway with a simulated gunshot wound to the head, a pool of deep-red, corn-syrup next to her.
Every agency approached the scenarios with a realistic amount of information. "Officers haven’t been briefed other than what they hear over the radio," said Josh Wall of the Summit County Sheriff’s office.
The exercise was built to create the look and feel of a real emergency situation. And it worked, according to those who participated.
"Having shell casings land in my lap made it really real," said Dylan Noaker, a South Summit High School junior. Noaker walked with a limp, which drew attention to a realistic-looking wound near his knee.
Senior Pat Schulz said he was hiding in a room when the shooter in the drill entered and began looking for hostages.
"Uninhibited panic is a fairly simple thing to do when people are shooting guns off all over the place and the room is filling up with smoke," Schulz said. "I’m not even going to pretend I was in control of my emotions."
The drill was designed to prepare both school administrators and law enforcement officials to respond to violent situations. Chad Peterson, a math teacher at South Summit High School said the exercise taught students and faculty how to react in such circumstances.
"It will make them treat everything as real a little more," Peterson said. "I think it’ll hit it home to them, that it really could happen."
South Summit School District Superintendent Barry Walker said the training gave teachers valuable insight into how to react in such an event.
"What you do in the hallways is really something you don’t know until you are actually in the situation," he said.
After the drills concluded, each student received a wristband to remind them of the experience.
"I survived 11-17-10," was printed on the wristbands.