School drill will mirror emergency threat

SALEM — Police and school officials plan to put students and staff at Salem Sr/Jr. High School to the test during an emergency threat drill next week.

They won’t know the day or time or scenario — they’ve just been told to be ready and let their training take over for whatever situation they’re facing. Some may need to barricade themselves in their classrooms and be prepared to act if the barricade fails. Some will have to decide whether evacuating or escaping outside is the better alternative.

No matter what happens, Salem Police Chief J.T. Panezott and Salem High School Associate Principal Hank Brock said they’ll be safe.

That’s why they’re trying to get the word out now about the event happening the week of May 21 — they don’t want parents panicking and calling the school or worse yet, showing up in the middle of an important practice session that could potentially save lives someday.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst — with some of the shooting incidents in recent years, not just in schools, but at outdoor concerts, theaters, churches and other venues, that’s the mantra for emergency planners.

“We’re going to put our practices and our lessons into movement, based on our training. We do training for active shooters and a variety of scenarios. We want to do a full-blown drill where people have to react to the situation they’re in,” Brock said.

Brock oversees security at the school and works closely with the police department on the emergency operations plan which is filed with the state. The district is required to conduct an emergency management test once per year, but Salem schools do more than one. This drill will be the main event and will involve all junior high and high school students and staff, including non-teaching personnel.

“Students and teachers are going to react to a perceived threat, they’re going to react to their training,” he said.

Panezott said police won’t be taking an active part in the drill, but will be watching the events unfold to see how the students and staff perform. Police and fire department personnel will be outside to help with any evacuation and keep an eye on students while they’re out there. He said officers will observe and will talk to students and teachers later about the training they received and how it was put to use.

Students and staff have already been told about the upcoming drill multiple times during morning video announcements. Brock said the school district will do an all call Friday and again on Monday to remind parents. The drill will be posted on social media by both the school district and the police department as it’s happening.

“We’re using every communication method available to us to let parents know this is a drill and there’s going to be a heavy police and fire presence. The kids are going to be safe,” Panezott said, adding he’s not expecting any traffic problem. “We’re asking parents to stay away. No one will be allowed on the property while the students are outside.

The district has conducted lockdowns, tabletop exercises, evacuation drills, fire drills on a regular basis and guidelines are in place. Every teacher has a system for locking down and they know to look for a possible way out if possible. Panezott commented that there’s no “set in stone” thing to do.

Brock described the training and the drill as “very situational. That’s what we harp on in training.”

He called it the OODA Loop — Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act — over and over again.

“Doing nothing is the worst thing you can do,” he said.

Handheld two-way radios are throughout the school in every department and there are police radios in the building for talking directly to police. Security cameras are watching everything, both inside and out.

After the drill, Brock will talk with the police personnel to see what went wrong and what went right and what can be done better. In the first week of June, he’ll meet with staff for a review of the drill and share with them what was good and what was bad, using the video footage from that day.

Panezott noted that both he and Brock come from military backgrounds — there will be things done right and things done wrong, as with any exercise, and that experience will be used as a teaching tool.

“That’s what it’s all about, keeping the kids safe and prepared,” Brock said.