‘More is better’

WCSD plans additional active shooter drills

Times Observer file photo Police take down the shooter during a mass casualty drill at Beaty-Warren Middle School in August.

There were some specific areas of strength, weakness, and opportunity that came out of an after-action debriefing of this summer’s active shooter drill.

“People don’t practice mass casualty on a regular basis,” Dr. Alaina Hunt of Stop the Bleed said. “That’s the whole point of doing these exercises.”

The primary take-away was that having a drill was good and having more will be better.

The most recent drill took place in August at Beaty-Warren Middle School.

Law enforcement and EMS practiced how they would respond to an active shooter situation with a mass casualty situation.

The leaders of the drill are looking forward to holding the event at another location.

In terms of proximity to full-time police, fire, and EMS services, Beaty is the district’s best location.

The district plans to rotate similar drills through its buildings. The next will be at Eisenhower.

The involved agencies appreciate the chance to practice.

Fire departments from all over the county are used to working together. And officials don’t expect any difficulty finding people to participate in the drill. Warren County Deputy Public Safety Director Scott Rose pointed out that volunteer participation at events like mock crashes is very high.

Warren County School District Quality Assurance Supervisor Boyd Freeborough and City of Warren Fire Department Operations Training Officer Steve Hoffman both pointed to cooperation, coordination, and command structure of strengths in the drill.

“Rank doesn’t matter. Agency doesn’t matter,” City of Warren Police Officer A.J. Foriska said. “The ability for everyone to work really well together was something we were happy with.”

The challenge is bringing those groups together to work on something they may not have begun to train for.

Those who have been through the process are willing to help those who have not. Hoffman said the city will share programs and preparations it has developed with other departments.

Practicing for the communications problems that would arise in a situation like an active shooter with mass casualties is more complicated.

Communications was one of the primary problems the responders talked about.

They knew it would be.

But there is hope that some of those challenges will be overcome in the future.

A county-driven, uniform emergency radio purchase is expected to help.

And Rose said a dispatcher, with all necessary equipment, will be provided for the next drill without tying up real-time county operations.

Eisenhower poses additional communications challenges.

At Beaty, and most of the district’s buildings, local, county, state, and federal agencies from Warren County are involved. At Sheffield, there could be multiple other Pennsylvania counties that respond.

At Eisenhower, organizers expect departments and volunteers from another state participating. The district and organizers of the drill are already working to bring agencies from New York into the fold.

District Superintendent Amy Stewart said the drill brought home that some of the response would have to be handled by the people already in the building.

“We’re going to need to take care of some of our own people,” she said. “We could be an asset… if there’s an armed officer outside that door.”

The district continues to increase the number of Stop the Bleed kits it has in its buildings.

Nursing Department Head Louise Tharp agreed. “I think we need to include the nurses in our buildings in all trainings,” she said.

The drills also will help responders remember or discover what they have at their disposal.

“With these drills, you’re going to train your EMS guys what assets we have and where they are,” Hoffman said.

Other than that, the wish for future drills was to make them stressful.

District Transportation and Purchasing Manager Mike Kiehl said the last two drills each had aspects in their favor in that regard. “At Youngsville, UPMC came in and did some staging — sounds, smoke.”

At Beaty, law enforcement were able to fire their weapons using simulated ammunition. “I love that we added Simunitions,” Kiehl said. But, “I sat with bystanders at both events. It felt very real at Youngsville.”

“On the drill day, make it as realistic as possible,” Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. Ryan Nuhfer said. “The harder it is, the more realistic it’s going to be.”