Officials and organizers were pleased with the outcome following the massive school security drill conducted over five hours at Saxe Middle School Aug. 8.
"I couldn't have asked for better participation and feedback," Emergency Management Director Michael Handler said. "We got through everything I'd hoped to accomplish."
The drill integrated participation from many of the town's emergency responders, including the New Canaan Police and Fire departments, two members of the state police, two members of the Stamford police, three special agents from the FBI, members New Canaan Emergency Medical Services, the Community Emergency Response Team, the Board of Education, members of the local media, several teachers and teenaged student volunteers.
Dozens of people from various groups filled the center hallway of Saxe by 7:30 a.m. Throughout the day, the participants recreated an event similar to the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where 20 children and six adults were shot and killed. Two Stamford police officers played the role of the shooters, with simulated ammunition, as town and school personnel worked to identify the threat, find the bad guys, evacuate the school, treat injured victims and reunite children and parents.
During the course of the drill, Sgt. Carol Ogrinc, the police department's public information officer, issued updated press releases. For instance, at 8:30 a.m., police were dispatched after reports of shots fired and the school was put on full lockdown.
"It's a very sobering realization when the two of them roll up to the school," Police Commission Chairman James Cole said of the first responders. "You don't wait till the (Special Response Team) shows up, you go right in."
Police searched the school and found the killer. In one scenario, he was shot by police; in another, he shot himself. The responders then set up triage stations to help those injured, and accounted for the students. At 10:15 a.m., police reported 17 fatalities; 16 victims were transported to the hospital.
"We searched each classroom," SRT leader Sgt. Jason Ferraro said while packing up his bullet-proof vest and helmet shortly after the drill. "We found the bad guys both times. When we train, we don't want every scenario to be a shoot scenario. One was a shoot, one was a no-shoot."
In all, 26 New Canaan officers participated in the drill.
"This is the kind of training we need to consistently," interim Police Chief Leon Krolikowski said. "It was great, couldn't have gone better ... There were a lot of little things we could be doing better. We want to do this regularly on smaller scales."
Many people said the reunification of children with their parents stage was the most difficult and most informative of the day. In the drill, Handler had a room full of parents kept in a gymnasium down the hall from the auditorium, where their children were kept. In a real situation, Handler said, the children would be transported to Waveny Castle. Volunteers identified children one by one, asking for the names of their parents. The name of the child was relayed to the gym, and the parents were required to show their own photo identification before the child was released to them.
"There really is no protocol for this, we invented our way through it," Cole said. "There were some good suggestions made about trying to do it different ways, and we know we've got to do a better job."
Helping design that protocol will be on the agenda, along with many other items, for Handler now that the drill is complete.
"This is like the second inning: from now on, it's a lot of analysis; a lot of checking policies and writing and then training and exercise again," Handler said. "It's a constant evolution."
Handler said he would not have an idea about new policies until hours of discussion and analysis of the drill have occurred. But he did cite one change right off the bat.
"Easy things to identify are infrastructure changes to be made. For instance, an ID check before a person enters. That's just a question of resources," he said.
When the work is complete, Handler and other organizers will present findings to town bodies, including the Crisis Advisory Board, a town-wide body which sets security protocols at the schools.
"It was not stressful, but energizing," Schools Superintendent Mary Kolek said. "We learned so much. To be able to do this under these circumstances is a gift."
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