Somerset School, Police Prepare For The Worst
Daily American Staff Writer
5:48 PM EDT, August 27, 2012
Although there were no students at the Somerset middle and high school Monday, lessons were still being learned. The day before school was used for a drill involving local police, first responders and school personnel. People played the role of shooters who were on the second floor of the building.
Representatives from Somerset Borough and state police, armed with paintball guns that fired small rubber balls, searched the halls for an active shooter. Teachers were asked to portray students and shooting victims. A cap gun simulated the sound of gunshots. Two members of the media, including a reporter from the Daily American, also participated by playing themselves.
Although the school conducts fire, evacuation and other drills, this was the first time an active shooter drill was held in the school. Superintendent Krista Mathias said the drill was intense. She said it was difficult for her to watch police and the gunman walking through the halls with guns drawn. "I certainly hope I never have to see that for real," she said. But it is important to prepare for the future if a situation would ever occur. "We all hope and pray that this never happens, but hoping for it not to happen is not a strategy," she said. She said she would meet with administrators and staff to create better emergency procedures.
Librarian Natalie Barnhart played a teacher in one of the scenarios. She heard yelling and gunshots while participating in the drill. "That is about as realistic of a drill as I would ever care to be involved in," she said. Somerset Borough police Chief Randy Cox said drills give police and the school an opportunity to review protocols. "Every drill holds the potential to be 100 percent successful, and it was," he said. Cox would like to continue doing these sorts of drills as often as possible. "I would also like to expand into other public buildings," he said. The drill allowed borough and state police to work together. "I was really happy with what we did here today," he said. State police Cpl. Ed Thomas emphasized the importance of training. "I think everything like this is good," he said. "Were mistakes made? Yes. But any kind of training is a good thing. The more you train, the better you'll be."
State police have held similar drills in the Rockwood, Meyersdale, Salisbury and Shanksville schools and the Somerset County Technology Center. "We would like to get all the schools involved on the same page," Thomas said. After the drills were over there was a debriefing and question-and-answer period for both school personnel and the police. Nearly 50 people, including individuals from Somerset and Listie fire departments and Somerset ambulance, participated in Monday's drill.
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