The Altoona Area School District's "active shooter" drill played out as expected, revealing strengths and weaknesses of first responders' ability to implement an emergency plan for a school-shooter scenario.
The district successfully tested its emergency notification system that would contact the district's 8,300 parents immediately in case of emergency.
But the district's shooter drill conducted Wednesday morning also revealed a communication gap among emergency responders responsible for controlling traffic as students escape the building, Blair County Emergency Management Director Dan Boyles said.
"That's why you have exercises - so you can correct that, because it is a serious communication gap," Boyles said. "We are working with the information technology people to figure it out."
It was the district's first full-scale shooter drill, planned for six months and conducted by the Altoona Area School District police in collaboration with the Blair County EMA, Blair County 911 Center, Altoona police, Altoona firefighters, AMED and Logan Township police.
The drill began around 9 a.m. with an unscripted twist: A power surge affected various parts of Altoona as officers worked to disarm the faux gunman in a cafeteria with 100 students.
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich
AMED?personnel triage students on the intramural field Wednesday at Altoona Area High School’s disaster drill.
The surge set off alarms at the Altoona Regional, and caused lights to flicker at the Blair County Department of Emergency Services and 911 Emergency Management headquarters on 4th Street, a Blair County Emergency Services operator said.
The momentary power surge actually benefited the school district's drill, Superintendent Dennis Murray said.
"The first question raised was: If we lose power, do our security cameras function? We learned that they do; they have battery backup," Murray said.
The surge was just a blip in the hour-long drill. Students were freed in groups and directed to the football field where AMED aided them. About 25 students were labeled with injuries from asthma to gun wounds.
For the Altoona band members participating in the drill as critically injured victims, a helicopter ride to Altoona Regional would have been an adventure, but transporting students or even using a stretcher to carry those labeled with leg injuries from the school to safety would have required parental permission, Boyles and district officials said.
"In a real situation, they would have been carried," Boyles said.
Five school district police officers are armed, school officials said, so they would be the first responders on the scene with assistance from Altoona police officers close behind. For the drill, all weapons were empty.
"[School shootings] seem to be occurring more and more." Murray said. "You have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best."