Shooter drills improve communications across county and state lines

Warren County School District is preparing for the worst and making friends along the way.

While district officials are meeting with agencies to arrange another active shooter drill for a district building, the entities, including those across state lines, are developing positive working relationships.

Last week, district officials hosted personnel from the Pennsylvania State Police in Warren and Erie counties, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, City of Warren Police, Lakewood-Busti Police Department, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Warren County Public Safety, EmergyCare, and Warren General Hospital, to move forward with plans for an active shooter drill this summer.

The district plans to hold active shooter drills each year, with the 2019 drill to take place at the Eisenhower campus.

The first order of business was to finalize the date of the event — August 20.

State Police Sgt. Ryan Nuhfer confirmed that the PSP Northwest Training Center is on board and the Mercer Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) may also be involved.

The participation of the SERT would add to the exercise, but the “training unit can handle everything you need,” Nuhfer told WCSD Superintendent Amy Stewart.

Having the training center confirmed and hearing no other agency representatives object, the date was locked in.

Stewart made it clear that all agencies were welcome — “regardless of jurisdiction.”

She also wanted to be confident that communications would be improved during this exercise, compared to the 2018 drill at Beaty-Warren Middle School. She looked to Warren County Public Safety Director Ken McCorrison.

He said he is confident the county’s new radio system will be implemented in time for the drill. The timing will help Warren County Emergency Management evaluate the system. “This is going to be our first big test of how our equipment works with Chautauqua County,” McCorrison said.

In addition to being compatible with agencies of every sort throughout the county and across county and state lines, McCorrison said the system is capable of subdividing communication groups so, for example, transportation concerns will be separated from law enforcement communications.

While there will be more meetings of the full group — including representatives from all of the agency stakeholders, Stewart expects smaller groups will work out many of the details moving forward.

There will be meetings dedicated to working out communications.

Meetings specific to volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services will be held. The Beaty drill fell heavily on the City of Warren Fire Department. Multiple volunteer entities will be called on to deal with mass casualty situations anywhere else in the county.

Buildings and Grounds Information Specialist Melissa McLean said the meeting will help streamline communication between the district and EMS, firefighters, and other first responders regarding “what they would need and what we can provide.”

In addition to Warren County resources, a major incident at Eisenhower would bring in responders and involve entities from Chautauqua County.

Stewart said one of her priorities is to prepare for reunification of students in an evacuation event with their parents. Future meetings will be dedicated to that issue.

On Thursday, officials had several suggestions about the kinds of security that would need to be in place at the primary reunification points.

Responders also expressed concerns and ideas about controlling crowds and traffic in a major incident during which concerned, angry, and frightened family members would be showing up at a school.

Police asked Stewart if training could be held in the school prior to the drill. She said Eisenhower would be available. Officers suggested other types of situations that could best be handled in school buildings to help prepare for a shooter incident.

When one officer said, “it would be nice to see the school with students in it,” district officials said they would arrange for visits during school hours. Some of those have already taken place, but not with all of the agencies participating in the current drill.

She said students are becoming accustomed to the protocols that are in place to respond to various emergency situations. “We’re doing active shooter drills in the buildings with students twice a years.”

Stewart said the district is preparing a memorandum of understanding for consideration by the school board that would establish a formal relationship between the district and Chautauqua County agencies. That MOU would be similar to those already in place with Warren County agencies.

The next meeting of the full group will be held in March.

Stewart said she planned to contact Titusville Area School District regarding a drill scheduled there for March.