Active shooter training exercise at Bay High plans for the unthinkable
Bay High staff members and students collaborated with Bay Village police officers to prepare for the possibility of an armed intruder at the school. The training exercise took place Friday, March 11 – a day off school for students and a professional development day for faculty.
The morning began as a relaxed gathering in the cafeteria to enjoy coffee and donuts. Unexpected gunshots soon rang out, and two armed attackers had students running for their lives. Most students quickly escaped, but several were left injured by gunfire and screaming for help. Police officers killed or subdued the attackers before tending to the bleeding students, using tourniquets or other first aid for a variety of gunshot wounds.
The bullets were blanks, of course, and the injured students were playing roles. Teachers who tried to help the injured get away were asked to leave them there, as they were an important part of the officers’ training.
“The training exercise is based on debriefings we’ve had covering the Chardon High School and Newtown shootings, as well as other shooter incidents,” said Bay Village Detective Kevin Krolkoski.
“We do a lot of dry runs on lockdowns, here in the cafeteria or during class exchange, but everyone knows how it’s going to start and how it’s going to end,” Krolkoski said. “In this scenario, no one really knows how it’s going to start. People will evacuate the building or go into lockdown, depending upon where they are. It’s a real opportunity to see how people react in a surprise situation.”
Students later encountered more gunfire as they congregated in hallways waiting to go into a class. Teachers quickly herded kids into classrooms and barricaded doors, piling chairs and bookcases to block entry of any intruder. Smoke from gunfire filled the hallways, and one assailant pounded on doors, mimicking an innocent classmate desperate to be let in. Once again, police exchanged gunfire with the shooters and overtook them.
“The gunshots were really frightening at first,” said senior Meredith Brewer. “But after going through the drill several times, you become desensitized to it somewhat.” She and other students agreed that they are now sure they would recognize what a gunshot sounded like and knew better how to react.
“If you look at the history of school shootings – Chardon, for example,” said Bay High principal, Jason Martin, “a lot of the credit for lives being saved that day goes to the staff being trained and being aware of how they needed to respond. The value here is truly to make sure that if the situation does ever arise at Bay High, our staff is fully prepared.”
Mr. Martin said the students’ participation would help them lead fellow students in the event of an attack because they will know how the school expects them to respond, how police are trained, and how to step in if a teacher is not around or a staff member can use their help. About 80 students active in clubs or teams, representing grades 9-12, participated. “We want to instill in them the confidence that they can take over, they can help their fellow students and help their teachers and staff. In handling this kind of event, it’s going to take a lot of people working together to save lives,”
Bay High’s assistant principal, Aaron Ereditario, sees the training as similar to other learning done in school everyday – learning by doing and learning by experience. “By putting ourselves in it,” he said, “we learn how we feel, how we react, where we go, where we don’t go, how we might panic and how we can separate from our emotions and make logical decisions in a time of chaos.”
Detective Krolkoski said the training objective was two-fold. “One, we want to see how the students and staff react to the scenarios. Two is how our officers respond. What are the dynamics when they enter a situation where they do not know what is going to happen? In this particular event, we’re using a munition to simulate actual gunfire. So our officers don’t want to get hit, and they need to be prepared to react to the situation at hand. It’s not static training. It’s more fluid where they’re going to have to make split-second decisions. Same objective with the school staff. We want to see the decision-making under stress, as much as you can get from a training situation.”
While debriefing the students at the end of the morning, Detective Krolkoski emphasized that the first level of school security is always threat assessment, relying on information provided by students or others. “We want you feeling comfortable telling your teachers, administrators and us about any concerns about what you’ve heard,” he said. “No matter how insignificant you think something might be, if something seems out of place or a little ‘off,’ let a teacher or principal know.”
He pointed out that in each school shooting case studied from Columbine (1999) to 2008, there was a direct or indirect threat in chat rooms (before social media) or text messages that were not reported to school administrators. He stressed that police and school officials would rather take the time to investigate something that turns out to be just a stupid comment than miss something that leads to a real threat.
Senior Annie Peters felt the training, though an emotional experience, was worthwhile. “I did just freeze for a moment when the gunfire went off,” she said. “But I watched how our teachers put our safety first, how they put themselves out there to make sure we were protected. I feel more secure about it now.”
Director of Communications for the Bay Village City School District