During some school shooting incidents in recent years, parents have learned what was happening before police, because their kids trapped inside have called or texted them.
Many of those parents then converged on those schools, compounding problems for police.
Handling that kind of onslaught will be one focus of an "active shooter" exercise this morning at the main Altoona Area School District campus on Sixth and Seventh avenues.
It will be the first such exercise conducted "full-scale" by the district, with participation from most of the emergency response agencies that would respond in a real emergency.
Altoona and Logan Township police, the Altoona Fire Department, AMED, county and city emergency management agencies and the county 911 center in addition to school district police will be part of the drill, said city police Lt. Jeff Pratt.
Motorists should avoid Sixth Avenue through the district campus from 8 a.m. to noon, because of detours and closings. Don't be alarmed if gunshots are heard in the exercise area, authorities said.
The premise will be that someone has robbed a convenience store, then gone into a school building and wounded students, city police Sgt. Frank Shields said.
About 100 band members and some teachers will pretend to be victims "to facilitate realness," Altoona district police director Jack Reilly said.
Authorities hope the playacting will expose correctable shortcomings, Pratt said.
Traffic control is key to counteracting the onrush of parents, Pratt said.
If 17th Street is a "parking lot," emergency vehicles can't get through, he said.
The strategy for active shooter incidents is different than when the most famous one occurred in Columbine, Colo., in 1999, Pratt and Reilly said.
Then, police cordoned off the perimeter but didn't enter.
Now, the preferred strategy is to get inside to confront the shooter as quickly as possible, because experience has shown that otherwise the shooter will continue trying to kill, Reilly said.
"Time is of the essence," Pratt said.
The plans call for "locking down" the building, including the doors of classrooms by teachers, who take roll and hang an emblem on those doors for emergency workers to see if things are OK, Reilly said.
Initially, today's participating agencies were to be limited to district and city police, Pratt said.
"But it got bigger when we looked at critical issues," mainly the perimeter maintenance and emergency access, he said.
State Department of Education guidelines call for one of these kinds of exercises a year, Reilly said. The drills began about seven years ago under state Auditor General Jack Wagner, he said.
The campus comprises the high and junior high schools, Penn Lincoln Elementary and the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center. Altoona Central Catholic Middle School at St. Mary's is next door, Reilly said.
There is probably a total of about 10,000 students, employees and visitors in those buildings, he said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.