Portola Junior/Senior High School became the first school in Plumas Unified School District to hold a full scale “active shooter” drill April 24, with a goal to test the response of area agencies in an effort to increase school safety.
“While this is upsetting and something that we may not want to think about, the exercise is needed in order to be prepared,” PJSHS Principal Sara Sheridan said. “We are pleased to work with all agencies involved in this drill.”
School was released early that day and 20 student volunteer role players, along with 13 staff volunteer role players remained at the school to begin getting makeup applied to enhance the simulation of the drill.
“The kids have been real troopers,” Sheridan said of those with fake gunshot wounds to various body parts, waiting patiently for the drill to begin in the school gymnasium, wearing white shirts with the words “Role Player” printed clearly on front and back. “Two of my daughters are involved with this exercise.”
Next door in the cafeteria the debriefing leading up to the hour of the drill was being held, with Public Health Agency Health Education and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Lori Beatley speaking to a full room.
“We’re testing communication here,” Beatley explained to more than 100 participants.
She went on to address the months of work that had gone into bringing the drill to the high school thanking those who had worked with her, including Principal Sheridan and Student Service Coordinator Shannon Harston, as well as CHP Officer Jonathan Bruno and PUSD Safety Officer Frank Carey, and spoke to participants about retaining some element of reality in the exercise.
“When the drill begins, I want you all to ensure that you are being realistic about what your ETA would be at the school after the call has gone out,” Beatley expressed to first responders and law enforcement. It was also explained that all entities should allow time for full completion of the exercise before returning to the cafeteria for a “hot wash,” or post-event debriefing.
Carey, PUSD’s safety officer and facility foreman, is ALICE-protocol certified (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate). Carey said, “There has been a lot of preparation that has gone into this exercise, and a lot of meetings. It’s great to see this drill come to life after five years in the making and have a chance to actively prepare in the event that an active situation was to occur at a Plumas County school.”
Beatley introduced the six evaluators; the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) at City Hall would be evaluated by Cal-OES; EPHC had Tina Venable, director of Nursing/MHOAC (Medical Health Operations Area Coordinator) on deck; the Family Assistance Center (FAC) had Kori Linker Department of Social Services (State); EMS would be evaluated by Matt Brown from Care Flight/REMSA; and overall evaluators were to be Mary Thomas from Glenn County Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Jim Uruburu from Lassen County Public Health Emergency Preparedness.
These evaluators would be monitoring and recording the scene as it unfolded.
Beatley then introduced CHP Officer Jonathan Bruno. Bruno thanked PUSD, Superintendent Terry Oestreich and Principal Sara Sheridan for hosting the event. “This is the most EMTs I have ever had in a training,” he remarked.
Bruno addressed safety protocols, explaining that all safety officers would be wearing red shirts and would be present throughout the exercise. He went on to explain that law enforcement would be utilizing blanks for the exercise, and all modified weapons on scene, known as “simunition guns,” would have blue handles and cannot shoot live rounds.
Safety was a high priority, with all involved required to wear safety glasses, a colored vest denoting role, and undergo full body checks prior to entering the school. Bruno also clearly stated that there would be no contact shots during the exercise, “nor horse play of any kind.”
At that, the room emptied toward the front doors of the school, where each individual remaining on scene was thoroughly patted down prior to entering the main building while student role players completed a triple-check and took their places behind the scenes.
Within moments of entering the school, the call that the range was “hot” went out and a “shooter” burst into the school library, “opening fire” on role-playing students and school staff members. A second “shooter” also began an attack in a classroom nearby.
Plumas County Sheriff’s Office and California Highway Patrol officers rushed onto the scene to confront the “shooters,” played by Frank Carey, who was neutralized, and Officer Shane Black, who “shot himself,” and then moved in for a sweep through the school. Classrooms were checked, and role players were found hiding behind upturned classroom tables.
The scene quickly gained an element of controlled chaos as first responders, EMTs and all medical personnel were allowed to enter once the scene had been declared all clear.
Rapidly, the work to begin triage and evacuation of the “victims” went into full force, coordinated by Venable, director of Nursing with Plumas County Public Health Agency and Incident Command for coordination of patient movement.
First responders assessed the “victims” in quick order, determining level of acuity and tying varied colors of tape to the arm of each person according to the level of injury, to be transported outside on the front lawn of the school to corresponding colored tarps. Red tarps were for the most critical patients, yellow for the next most critical, green tarps were for those considered “walking wounded,” and black tarps were for “victims” designated as deceased.
Chief Bob Frank of Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District worked as Incident Command, in conjunction with the efforts of Beckwourth Fire Department Chief Bret Russell, putting out the call to Care Flight/REMSA and Phi Air Medical that air lift and ground services would be needed for transportation of “victims.”
Two helicopters, one each from PHI Air Medical and Care Flight, were utilized in the training, with three trips in all made to transport critical patients to Eastern Plumas Healthcare where hospital staff then worked to ensure that all “victims” were cared for medically or “transferred” to a necessary medical facility.
Leslie Chrysler, Interim City Manager with the city of Portola, worked with city staff to set up an EOC, or Emergency Operation Center, and City Clerk Melissa Klundby fielded phone calls as the scene unfolded.
Role players swarmed The Station Church in Portola, which had been identified as the Family Assistance Center and served as the hub for American Red Cross and Plumas County Behavioral Health to give worried friends and family updates on what was occurring at the school.
Neal Caiazzo, director of Plumas County Social Services, took the time to speak to each distressed role player about their concerns, while the American Red Cross members on scene worked to alleviate the stress for emotional “parents” and “friends of victims” during the “mass casualty event.”
Once all aspects of the exercise had played out to their conclusion, participants filled the cafeteria once more for the hot wash, with each entity involved sharing brief observations on how the drill went.
A full after-action review of the event is slated May 30, according to organizers. All told, there were approximately 100 participants, observers and evaluators, not including EPHC hospital staff, involved in this exercise, as well as approximately 40 role players for the active shooter drill and the Family Assistance Center, according to Beatley.
“Overall it went well, and I am excited and grateful for all the participation from all agencies and departments involved. It was a whole system exercise and we will be determining areas of improvements as well as building on the strengths demonstrated in the exercise. The After-Action Report and Improvement Plan will be instrumental in addressing the areas of improvement,” Beatley commented.
PUSD Superintendent Oestreich also spoke on the exercise, saying, “While I hope that we never experience an active shooter situation, I am grateful that our stakeholders were able to practice the drill at PJSHS. I was most impressed with the organization, teamwork and participation at the exercise last week. Our County has so many wonderful people who care and are willing to share their expertise. It was also nice to see Sierra County representatives join in on the drill.”
Beatley thanks all entities involved in this exercise, which include Portola High School, PUSD, Plumas County Behavioral Health, Plumas County Social Services, Plumas County Sheriff’s Office, Plumas County Office of Emergency Service, the CHP, American Red Cross, Eastern Plumas Health Care, Plumas District Hospital, Care Flight, PHI Air Medical, Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District, Sierra Valley Fire Department, Beckwourth Fire Department, and the city of Portola.