EBENSBURG - Although faculty and staff were told what the exercise would entail ahead of time, onlookers at Central Cambria High School appeared visibly startled as gunfire rang out in the hallways during an active shooter exercise on Friday.
Law enforcement personnel from the Community Emergency Response Team reacted quickly in search of the two "shooters" in the simulation.
A group of officers calmly and methodically went down the hallways, weapons drawn, as Central Cambria students involved in the exercise fled in the opposite direction.
Mirror photo by Zach Geiger
Community Emergency Response Team members exit Central Cambria High School after completing the active shooter exercise Friday afternoon.
The active shooter exercise involved multiple police departments and law enforcement agencies, about 80 students and the entire faculty and staff of the high school, Central Cambria Superintendent Vincent DiLeo said.
Law enforcement personnel said the drill was the first in the area to involve high school students in the scenario. The exercise was a teaching experience for police, teachers and students.
The first gunshots made the exercise all-too real, said Steven Papuga, a Central Cambria senior.
Papuga, 18, and classmate Abby Davidson, 16, were each given note cards with their assignments during the exercise. The cards read "student in hallway - attempts to get in every classroom."
Hands still shaking as he held the note card, Papuga watched as the CERT team swept past the main office and continued down the hallway, clearing classrooms.
"It was scary hearing the shots and seeing them run with guns," Papuga said.
During the exercise, the pair ran through the hallways at a full sprint while attempting to seek shelter in various classrooms.
"No one would let you in," Davidson said.
Both students said they were glad they participated in the exercise.
"It makes you feel a lot safer," Davidson said.
"There was terror on their faces," DiLeo said.
The superintendent thanked student volunteers for their serious attitudes and participation in the exercise, despite having the day off from school.
The exercise was designed not only to help train law enforcement personnel, but to make students and Central Cambria faculty and staff aware of what to do in the event of an emergency situation, said Ron Springer, Cambria County Department of Emergency Services executive director.
"Overall, initially we are very pleased," Springer said as students were led out of classrooms after the fake lockdown had been lifted.
During the exercise, the smell of gunfire from officers' weapons lingered in the school hallways as CERT members took down one of the "shooters."
Officers used real firearms and fired blanks during the exercise, Springer said. Each weapon was checked and tagged for safety ahead of the exercise, he said.
Although there were "casualties," including some student volunteers, the exercise centered on the police response and not on post-event emergency medical response, Springer said.
Cambria Township and Ebensburg Borough would typically be the first responders in the event of an incident at the high school, Springer said. Pennsylvania state police, Cambria County Sheriff's Department deputies, CERT officials and other law enforcement personnel joined in a short time after the first officers entered the simulation.
Faculty and staff of the high school had a chance to experience how police would react in the event of an emergency, Springer said. The situation was unique thanks to the participation of about 80 student volunteers.
"We're very grateful for the students," Springer said. "It added tremendous realism to the incident."
CERT members and other law enforcement officials, many of whom have never experienced a similar exercise, had the chance to learn from veteran officers, he said.
"We're very pleased with the end result," Springer said.
The experience was "imperative" for the school and law enforcement, said Chad Miller, a school resource officer at Greater Johnstown High School.
Miller, a Johnstown Police Department officer and CERT member, said the simulation was as real as it gets for a training exercise.
"I think it was a very successful training, definitely."
Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.