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At Armand R. Dupont School in Allenstown, officials rehearse school shooting response

  • Lt. Gary Gaskell, right, Sgt. Kris Dupuis, center, and Police officer Glen Chislett leave the Armand Dupont School after the all-clear was sounded at the emergency drill at the school was completed. The three all carried fake arms during the situation.<br/><br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    Lt. Gary Gaskell, right, Sgt. Kris Dupuis, center, and Police officer Glen Chislett leave the Armand Dupont School after the all-clear was sounded at the emergency drill at the school was completed. The three all carried fake arms during the situation.


    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • Allenstown School Resource officer Rebecca King talks with Allenstown patrolman Jeff King as the emergency drill winds down at the Armand Dupont School, Thursday, June 26, 2014.<br/><br/>And the Kings happen to be married.<br/><br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    Allenstown School Resource officer Rebecca King talks with Allenstown patrolman Jeff King as the emergency drill winds down at the Armand Dupont School, Thursday, June 26, 2014.

    And the Kings happen to be married.


    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • An officer writes down a follow-up report on the drill after the incident at the school.<br/><br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    An officer writes down a follow-up report on the drill after the incident at the school.


    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • <br/>First responders talk amongst themselves after the drill.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>


    First responders talk amongst themselves after the drill.

    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)




  • Lt. Gary Gaskell, right, Sgt. Kris Dupuis, center, and Police officer Glen Chislett leave the Armand Dupont School after the all-clear was sounded at the emergency drill at the school was completed. The three all carried fake arms during the situation.<br/><br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • Allenstown School Resource officer Rebecca King talks with Allenstown patrolman Jeff King as the emergency drill winds down at the Armand Dupont School, Thursday, June 26, 2014.<br/><br/>And the Kings happen to be married.<br/><br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • An officer writes down a follow-up report on the drill after the incident at the school.<br/><br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • <br/>First responders talk amongst themselves after the drill.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>

It began at 9:52 a.m. yesterday with the sound of a gunshot – not a real threat, just an empty round – then another, then another, echoing from inside the Armand R. Dupont school in Allenstown.

An emergency responder ran inside at 9:53 a.m. A pair of Allenstown police officers followed behind a minute later. Then, the sound of two more rounds.

The minutes rolled on. By 9:55 a.m., fire Chief Dana Pendergast was setting up a command center at a far corner of the parking lot, and an Allenstown fire truck was pulling up to the scene. Members of the town’s police department hadn’t yet set up their own command post, but they’d arrive eventually to do so. Back across the parking lot, a police officer from a neighboring community had to wait at a door for someone inside the building to let him in.

Students began filing out, escorted by emergency responders to a triage area that was already set up on an adjacent lot. One girl pointed back to the building on her way to the triage tent, telling officials outside, “There’s someone who is really injured. . .”

At 10:06, an officer walking toward the school approached Allenstown Town Administrator Shaun Mulholland and school resource Officer Rebecca King to ask about the location of an incident command post.

“We’re not even here,” Mulholland responded, sending the officer rushing toward someone else who might be able to help in the crowd of other officials swarming around the building. “We’re invisible.”

Rehearsing for the worst

For those gathered at the middle school – a cast of about 60 officers, firefighters, emergency management personnel, volunteers and others – yesterday morning was a rehearsal for a performance they hoped would remain just that, only a performance and never a reality. Mulholland was one of several officials who were just there to observe and critique, not to run through the motions.

Less than an hour before the active shooter drill began, officials huddled outside the school to review the day’s script. Jane Hubbard, whose emergency management consulting firm helped Allenstown coordinate the exercise, and Mulholland gave the responders a few instructions: Don’t break into locked doors, don’t drag the actors who are supposed to be severely “injured” (just let them walk on their own), don’t stop playing along until you’re told otherwise, don’t hesitate to call in requests for supplies or additional resources you might need during the response.

“Don’t ask for a pizza or something like that,” Mulholland clarified. “We probably won’t get it.”

This day would be the town’s chance to test a new approach to these drills, Pendergast also noted. Non-police emergency responders would be heading into the scene much more swiftly to enter “warm zones” – places that haven’t been declared completely safe but where the immediate action is not taking place – to try to address injuries and usher people to safety, he and Mulholland said.

Meanwhile, those playing the roles of students and teachers inside the school sat around tables in the basement before eventually dispersing to their assigned locations. They wouldn’t be using fake blood, Mulholland said; instead, the “injured” would be wearing tape on their arms to denote their status. (He’d been part of another drill where fake gore had been unsettling for some of the participants, and said this was a simpler approach.)

While the drill tried to mirror reality as closely as possible, it wasn’t a perfect simulation. Principal Mark Dangora was acting as the main point-person for the public and the leader of the school’s response, where that would normally be the school superintendent, who could not attend the drill. The medical examiner, also not called in for the drill, would normally be at the scene. Guidance counselors would also likely be stationed at a designated reunification center, along with teachers and others who would be helping connect children with parents in the aftermath of the incident.

All hands would be on deck – even the librarians and the janitors and other non-emergency personnel – in response to a real emergency this severe, Mulholland said: “In a small town, that’s what you have to do, you have to use everyone you have.”

And this would all be happening without the conveniences of a clear parking lot, a minimal flow of traffic and the absence of townspeople (or media) swarming the area for answers about what’s taking place. (For yesterday’s drill, Allenstown prosecutor Alicia O’Rourke played the role of public information officer, fielding questions alongside Dangora from Mark Fowke, who was acting as “the media.”)

The “shooter” – played by a sergeant from another police department – was taken into custody within 40 minutes, another variable that’s not guaranteed.

“In this case, they arrested the guy without killing him, which is good,” Mulholland said, watching the police officers escort him out of the building. “That’s the best situation you can hope for.”

Yesterday’s drill was one of two emergency management exercises Allenstown will conduct this year, as it has done since 2007. The next one will likely take place in the fall and will simulate a townwide incident – maybe an environmental disaster, Mulholland said, but that’s still being decided. Yesterday’s exercise cost about $29,000, including the cost of consulting and overtime pay, and was paid for through federal grant money, he said.

Playing the part

Among those playing the roles of “students” in yesterday’s exercise were Mary and Shannon Mulholland, who conceded that they were there because their dad – Shaun, the town administrator – asked them to be. Still, they said the drill was a valuable use of their morning. Mary, for one, is studying to be a nurse, and this helped give her a sense of how to help people in emergency situations.

“It’s important to keep people calm,” she said. “They can’t help it if they’re upset.”

Other participants included Joyce Walsh, an Allenstown health officer assigned to pretend she’d been grazed by a bullet, and Nicholas Flood, one of several Pembroke Academy drama club members who’d been recruited for the exercise – he played the role of a student who was fatally shot in the torso.

Narine Hazard, a guidance counselor at Armand R. Dupont, was one of several school employees who volunteered to participate. During an initial debriefing session, she spoke up to let officials know she had been left behind in a school classroom long after the drill had ended. The door in that room locked automatically, she said, and no one stopped inside to let her know when the building was all-clear.

This would have been handled differently under a real emergency response, Hubbard explained: At the start of the drill, the police and other officials were told not to enter locked areas, and therefore they didn’t do the kind of room-by-room sweep they otherwise would have.

Lessons learned

By noon, the school was all but empty, and the mood was markedly lighter. The group had migrated to the Allenstown fire hall across the street for lunch – courtesy of the local Ladies Auxiliary – and a brief review of how the morning was handled. More detailed reports will be prepared in the weeks ahead, but this gave all of the participants, across departments, a chance to reflect on the response, Mulholland said.

Hubbard led the session, giving the lead officials handling law enforcement, EMS, incident command and public information – and officials who were assigned to critique each area – a chance to speak.

For the most part, the officials agreed the situation had been handled smoothly, but the event pointed out some important questions: How involved would school officials be in incident command decisions? How should law enforcement officials refer to parts of the building to make sure other officials, who might be less familiar with the area, know what they’re talking about? What kind of plans need to be refined to improve the school’s response to journalists’ requests for updates?

Dangora, who has only been in his position for a year and had never participated in this kind of drill before, said it was eye-opening – particularly for someone who’s responsible for the day-to-day safety of students – to be in a situation filled with such uncertainty.

But when it comes to confronting and improving a scary but necessary response plan, he said, “the drill takes the edge off.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)

Legacy Comments1

Seems to me the crux of this drill should be spent in getting every law enforcement officer totally familiar with the school building. I mean to the point where each one could traverse it blindfolded (which may not be a bad idea). Blueprints and schematics are great, but pale in comparison to the real deal. That way, nothing can get lost in translation if/when the worst happens.

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