A SWAT team prepares to strike during an active response exercise held at Voorheesville High School on Thursday, March 24. Tricia Cremo/Spotlight
NEW SCOTLAND – To prepare emergency response to what would undoubtedly be a high-intensity situation, a school shooting was reenacted at the Voorheesville Central School District High School.
The “Interoperable Communications and Active Threat” full-scale exercise on Thursday, March 24, simulated a school shooting using students as actors with a real response from local police and EMS. The goal of the exercise was to strengthen law enforcement’s and public safety agencies’ abilities to quickly respond to and manage an active threat.
Though some parents had complained that the simulation was too much for the eyes of children, “This is the day and age we live in. We are not doing this to make people scared. We want them to be prepared,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple.
With this in mind, the drill was made as realistic as possible.
“I know the shooter’s face from a class I had last year, but I don’t remember his name,” said Luke Gillenwalters, 14, a student participant. His arm is covered in costume blood – a painted-on wound from a “gunshot.”
“Keep your hands up and walk out the front door,” instructs the officer as she escorts a group of students out of the building. A school alarm continuously sounds. Outside waiting for the drill participants are droves of emergency response vehicles from towns near and far. Those with fake injuries are shuttled to EMS services, while the rest of the school is brought to a safe area away from the school.
Though organizers said the drill did not go as smoothly as they would have liked, “If we’re going to make mistakes, I’d rather have them made now,” said Sheriff Apple. Such is the purpose of the drill.
On a daily basis Voorheesville Central School District is responsible for the safety of 1,150 students K-12 and 250 staff members. So, for Voorheesville Superintendent Brian Hunt, the drill also provided an opportunity to test the school’s internal response systems.
“We must work continuously to improve our planning and implementation of safety techniques,” said Hunt. “The active threat response exercise at Voorheesville Central High School is just one example of how the partnership between the Albany County Sheriff’s Office and the Voorheesville Central School District is working to provide a safe environment for all our students and staff members.”
And, for Apple, the drill was also a good reminder to the community that the events simulated could easily occur in communities like ours.
“Our staff has continuously been conducting active threat training and we understand the importance of conducting this type of exercise to include all the stakeholders in public safety. This collaborative exercise will continue to prepare our staff for a potential critical incident that may occur in our community,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, Sr.