It was more than a typical in-service day at Wallenpaupack Area School District on Friday, Oct. 1lth. Students had no classes, and were starting a nice, long Columbus Day holiday weekend. Teachers and administrators, as well as bus contractors were at their school buildings doing scheduled training during part of the day. What was different was an expected drill when training wasn't going on, when at times unannounced the "unthinkable" would be portrayed.
It was described as an "active shooter drill" in which actors portraying an armed assailant would enter at each of the schools an various times and in various means, leaving an element of surprise.
Superintendent Michael Silsby hailed the exercise as having gone very well. Staff knew what to do and where to go, having been through previous "Code Red" drills.
Like in a couple prior drills done in the past eight or so years, there was a sense of realism. They made use of an assailant portrayal, with sound effects: firecrackers meant to simulate gun shots, and yelling.
Although everyone knew it was a drill, Silsby said that the realistic effects was quite emotional for some of the staff.
Dr. Joann Hudak, Assistant Superintendent, said that what was different this time, the exercise was held in each of the buildings where staff actually worked. In the past, they had a mass training done in one building, and most of the 400+ staff could only be observers rather than engaged in the activity.
This time they also had the Student Resource Officers (SROs) who have been in place since this summer. The SROs also had a chance to train and react to the invasions.
Director of Security John Clader coordinated the drill, with Trooper Carl Ives, PA State Police- Blooming Grove and Sgt. Paul Cavallaro of PA State Police- Honesdale.
Each drill took about 10 to 15 minutes. "Intruders" would attempt to get into classrooms.
Any weak spots found in their building entry points that might have been revealed could be addressed. All the exterior doors were locked that are supposed to be.
At each school, a de-briefing session was held with staff to go over what was done and to answer questions.
No matter how much they train, however, Silsby stated that it is impossible to cover every potential scenario. The goal, he said, is to put up as many "road blocks" as possible for an intruder, so that hopefully 9-1-1 can be called and help arrive in time.
The drills, he said, are meant to raise the level of awareness for each teacher, administrator or other staff, to ask the question, "what would happen if-?" Each staff member can then study different scenarios and learn how they would react.
Dr. Hudak said they don't conduct the exercise as a complete surprise to staff, realizing that not knowing it was a drill could be harmful to some who may have a health issue. Staff had the opportunity for health issues to be only an observer rather than engaged in the drill. She said that less than five took this option.
Page 2 of 2 - There were no students involved, but they have had limited exercises with them so that the students know to follow the instructions of their teachers. These drills are not only meant to cover an armed intruder, but other emergencies as well including a weather alert. Silsby said that the younger students have taken the drills quite seriously.
Silsby said the District may schedule a similar drill every couple years as part of their ongoing safety training.