SWAT ON THE SCENE — The Erie County Special Weapons and Tactics team responded to Springville-Griffith Institute High School on Aug. 21. Photos by Lizz Schumer.
SPRINGVILLE — The Erie County Special Weapons and Tactics team piled out of an armored car, in front of Springville-Griffith Institute High School, on the afternoon of Aug. 21, blue-tipped guns ready. Response teams from the Erie County Sheriff and Springville Police Department stormed into the building, with their guns drawn and protective gear in place.
Rural Metro Ambulance, Springville Fire Department, East Concord Fire Department and Mortons Corners Fire Department vehicles all streamed into the parking lot, as Springville Fire Chief Dennis Dains waved them on, shouting into a walkie-talkie. A voice came over the loudspeaker into the parking lot, “This facility is on lockdown.”
The S-GI school district held an active-shooter drill on Aug. 21, in conjunction with the sheriff’s department, to ensure those departments would be ready, in the event of such an emergency.
READY TO GO — Personnel from Mortons Corners load up a gurney, to head into the building.
“In an actual incident, the tree [of command and response] gets much larger,” Dains explained. “We’re still in the development stage, at this point. After this drill, we will sit down, debrief and talk about what went well, what didn’t. Based on that, we’ll set up a response procedure with dispatch, in conjunction with law enforcement.”
A representative from the sheriff’s department explained that New York state is “encouraging these types of drills, so districts and law enforcement would be prepared for an actual incident.”
ROLLING ONTO THE SCENE — EMS responders head into the school, to help the victims the SWAT and sheriffs had already identified.
The drill was carried out by S-GI officials and observed by Springville Mayor William Krebs, Village Administrator Tim Horner, Concord Town Supervisor Gary Eppolito and others, although the public and media representatives were not allowed inside the building, while it was locked down.
“We are continually preparing for these types of incidents, with safety plans,” said Superintendent of Schools Paul Connelly. “This drill is one example of the sort of thing we need, to be prepared, in the event that this sort of thing happens. We decided to do it with our safety coordinator, Michael Retzlaff, who put it all together.”
Connelly said that the drill was scheduled during non-school hours so that it would not pose a distraction to instruction.
HURRY UP — Dains runs toward the door, to instruct emergency response personnel on where to find the mock victims.
The superintendent added that recent school shootings, such as took place at Newtown Elementary School last year and was averted at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy outside Atlanta, Ga. last week, “absolutely” provide an impetus to have a plan, for such events.
“We have to strike when the iron’s hot, so to speak,” Connelly said. “If we wait too long, people forget about it and this is too important.”
When school is in session, Connelly said that the school goes into lockdown about 10 times a year, during minor incidents, to prepare the students and staff for the possibility of a more serious event.
“When something happens, like a kid faints in the hall or someone falls down the stairs, we lock the place down, so that when the officials show up, we can just back off and let them do their thing,” he explained.
“As soon as the emergency response services, the fire department, the sheriff, anyone comes in, it’s not your building, anymore.”
The frequent lockdowns have led to the calmest kids Connelly has seen, in his years working in the school system. “Everyone knows what to do, in those circumstances. We like to make it routine,” he said.
The superintendent said that he and his fellow administrators will wait until the results of the exercise come back from Dains and his crew, to decide what action will be taken, on the school’s part. He said he expected to discuss it, with participating departments, to determine whether there were weaknesses or issues he and the school need to work on, before a future drill is scheduled.
“It’s very educational and pertinent, given what happened in Georgia,” added Ted Welch, S-GI business administrator. “We’re very fortunate, here at S-GI, to have the contacts to be able to get these people out here.”
A Springville fire department representative marveled at the organization of all the participating departments.
“To have all the departments coordinate, SWAT, Erie County, the EMS, all of them, and at 1 o’clock on a Wednesday, no less, is really amazing. But you know, that’s when it would happen. It’s not like you get time to get prepared,” she said.
After about an hour and a half, the exercise was over. As the faux victims emerged from the building and the all-clear sounded over the radios, Krebs said that he witnessed the coordination of multiple departments, responding to the emergency.
While the mayor added that he did not feel qualified to comment on the efficacy of the exercise, “It’s good to know that they do these things, since students drill in school, all the time, and it’s important for their safety, to have it worked out.”
Eppolito agreed. “It was interesting, to watch them work. It’s sad, that we have to do this sort of thing, to be prepared, in this day and age. We’d like to believe that, when we send our kids off to school, they’ll be safe. Unfortunately, we have to hold these kinds of events, to make sure that’s the case, since we can no longer make that assumption.”
Connelly said that, while no date has been set, for an additional active shooter drill, he does plan to repeat the exercise, after he receives information from emergency personnel, sometime in the future. He added that the school is consistently working “to secure the safety of our students and staff, to make sure we’re all doing all we can, to be safe.”