With mock school shooting, police lead a lesson in safety

With his empty gun drawn, Sgt. William Moyer looks down a hall in a Spring-Ford High drill.
With his empty gun drawn, Sgt. William Moyer looks down a hall in a Spring-Ford High drill. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 28, 2013

The Spring-Ford Area School District this week teamed up with local police to run drills and workshops on how to respond to a school shooting.

"It's imperative, the way things are today, that we're prepared," said high school health teacher Kevin Czapor, lining up to begin the first dry run.

About 75 educators attended Tuesday's session, where Limerick Police Chief Bill Albany and Upper Providence Sgt. Rob Solorio gave a presentation about school shootings, answered questions ( Is it better to shelter in place or run?), and dispelled some outdated notions about safety ( "A cafeteria table is not cover.")

After the lecture, the office staff, administrators, janitors, and some teachers participated with police officers in drills. Some were assigned to be in their offices; others were told to play students or shooting victims.

"You're going to see what it's like. You're going to hear the lingo we use, see officers clearing the hallways," said Steve Morrisey, a Pottstown officer who leads a regional tactical response team. He warned the educators that officers would not be in their usual respond-and-assist mode. They would be in hunt mode (with unloaded weapons, of course), and they could not stop to help victims.

"If at any time you get overwhelmed . . . just tell us," Morrisey said, handing out orange vests to those who preferred to passively observe.

Every school in the country turned an eye to safety after the December shootings in Newtown, Conn. In Bucks County, the Council Rock School District is spending about $1 million on security cameras, key-card entries, and security personnel. Districts elsewhere have added panic buttons in their offices.

Maren Bhalla, a college and career counselor at Spring-Ford Area High School, said the workshop was eye-opening - especially the part about not hiding under a table.

"When I was a kid, that's what we were taught," she said.

"We didn't even have to think about that when I was a kid," said Diane Simmoneau, a high school guidance secretary.

Chief Albany told them it's better to run, hide, and fight - in that order.

"The mortality rate of a gunshot wound is 30 percent," Albany said. "So if I'm boxed in a corner, I'm going to roll the dice. Seven out of 10 is not too bad."

Sgt. Solorio told them to be aware of their surroundings and to report any suspicious sightings.

Just a few months ago, for example, police deployed to Spring-Ford middle school reports of a man with a gun. He turned out to be hunting, legally, with his dogs in a wooded area behind the school.

Albany said he doesn't care if it's a false alarm. "You'll never die of embarrassment. . . . We'd rather respond to 10 false alarms than be late to one real call."

Superintendent David Goodin said the workshop would be repeated for the teaching staff this fall.


Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117, jparks@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @JS_Parks.

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