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With an active shooter in a school building, time is absolutely of the essence. The ability to act quickly and in a coordinated fashion is crucial, both in terms of neutralizing the shooter, and also getting medical attention to victims as soon as possible. One way to hone response capabilities is by regularly performing full-scale active shooter drills.
In April 2013, Penn-Harris-Madison (PHM) School Corporation performed a full-scale active shooter exercise to ensure that, in the event of a shooter at one of its schools, all parties could spring to action immediately, not wasting even a single valuable second.
"The whole value of our drill and the systems we've put in place is to save time," says Mike Seger, PHM's director of safety and student services. "Saving time saves lives."
PHM is located in north-central Indiana and includes 15 schools and 10,500 students. The drill was performed at the district's 3,500-student high school. Seger says his team had been planning to do a drill for a while, but the shooting at Sandy Hook sped up the timeline — indeed, the local fire department contacted him after Sandy Hook to see if there was anything it could do, he says. A first meeting was held in January 2013, which included fire, emergency medical personnel, law enforcement, and school administrators.
Led by Seger, the participants developed the parameters for the exercise and established a common communications protocol. Seger says ensuring that fire and law enforcement communicate effectively is one of the more important aspects of the drill.
"The real value of the full-scale active shooter exercise is a coordination process with first responders," he says. "The discussion involved allowed police and fire to share information."
In event of a shooter, the first responders must weigh when it's safe for medical personnel to enter a building to help victims. Whether the building is clear of threats is a difficult thing to judge. "There are lots of variables and so understanding and setting up a common terminology is crucial," he says.
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