Being prepared reason for gun drill at HNHS

Law enforcement officers, with their guns drawn, search a hallway at Huntington North High School during a training session on Monday, Jan. 5. With the help of student volunteers and school staff, area emergency personnel enacted a scenario in which a disgruntled parent with a gun enters the school and starts shooting. Officers are (from left) Sgt. Chad Hammel, Huntington County Sheriff’s Department; Dan Cowan, Andrews Police Department; and Chris Long and Jim Wall, Huntington County Sheriff’s Department.
Law enforcement officers, with their guns drawn, search a hallway at Huntington North High School during a training session on Monday, Jan. 5. With the help of student volunteers and school staff, area emergency personnel enacted a scenario in which a disgruntled parent with a gun enters the school and starts shooting. Officers are (from left) Sgt. Chad Hammel, Huntington County Sheriff’s Department; Dan Cowan, Andrews Police Department; and Chris Long and Jim Wall, Huntington County Sheriff’s Department. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

It’s a scenario every school hopes it will never experience: an angry parent, armed, shooting at students and staff alike.

But on Monday afternoon, Jan. 5, that scenario — in the form of a drill — was played out in the halls of Huntington North High School.

As teachers and staff members watched, a student’s father strode through the hallways, shooting at students in the halls, in classrooms, in the commons and in the cafeteria.

With the smell of gunfire permeating the air and casualties littering the building, law enforcement officers marched through those same halls, guns drawn, looking for the shooter.

HNHS Principal Chad Daugherty says the drill wasn’t precipitated by anything the school has experienced  — “We’ve never had a gun (in school) since I’ve been here,” he says — but rather a desire to be prepared.

“We do drills all the time,” he says. “Tornado drills, fire drills … and we’re getting pretty good at handling bomb threats.”

The Jan. 5 drill, in which all the guns fired blanks, offered the school staff an introduction to A.L.I.C.E., an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, a method of dealing with violent intruders that is being adopted by schools and other facilities across the country.

“The old way was turn off the lights, cover the windows, get in a corner and hide,” Daugherty says.

But locking down a room can sometimes make its occupants easy targets. A lockdown is only one component of A.L.I.C.E., which also advocates distracting the shooter and evacuating the building, using techniques tailored to each situation.

“We want to make sure our staff and our students are trained to be able to minimize loss of life,” Daugherty says.

“The first thing is, you just want to survive … It’s saving as many people as you can.”

Law enforcement agencies have, in the past, participated in similar active shooter drills, says Chief Deputy Chris Newton of the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department. This is the first time the school staff has been present for a drill.

“It’s a little different this year,” Newton says. “We included the teachers and the staff, so they know what we’re going to do. We can learn together.”

All area law enforcement agencies were invited, and their presence included officers from city, town, county and state agencies, as well as firefighters and emergency medical service personnel.

Although classes were not in session, about 200 students volunteered to participate in the drill, Daugherty says. Before the actual drill took place, the teachers and staff members received information about A.L.I.C.E. and the events that would take place during the drill.

“We’ve changed a lot of the direction we’re going,” Daugherty says.

Previously, only specific people were authorized to activate an “active shooter” response, a policy that was also in place when a shooter entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The principal there, the only person authorized to activate the response, was shot dead when she went out into the hallway, Daugherty says.

“The staff is trained,” Daugherty says of HNHS. “Anyone can announce.”

HNHS has cameras in the building and has agreements with several churches and Huntington University to serve as rallying points in the event of an evacuation, he says.

Even so, the A.L.I.C.E. plan at HNHS isn’t complete, he says.

“We’re just getting started with this,” Daugherty says.

Parents will be invited to a meeting to explain the procedures, he adds.