Officials praise mock drill efforts

CONNORVILLE – School and safety officials praised the recent mock drill at Buckeye Local High School, saying it was the largest one of its kind for the state.

The event on May 12 drew numerous safety forces from two counties and involved hospitals in both Ohio and West Virginia, but the sole goal was to test systems the school district had in place. Board member Rusty Cominsky, who spearheaded the drill, said eight fire and EMS departments, four police departments, the Jefferson County 9-1-1 communication vehicle, special response teams from Jefferson and Belmont counties, three hospitals and AirEvac were all involved in the active shooter training scenario and the Ohio State Highway Patrol hoped to be part of the next session.

“It was actually one of the bigger ones in the state,” Cominsky said of the drill. “There were 24 patients and 19 were transported. We had three hospitals that wanted to test their disaster protocols. Overall, it went very well. We are planning to do at least one or hopefully two next year at the other buildings.”

Cominsky added that two dozen high school seniors portrayed victims and volunteers with the Wells Township Haunted House provided victims’ makeup and fake blood for added realism.

Dinero Ciardelli, president of Special Tactics and Rescue Training LLC, said the Mingo Junction-based company has worked to train district staff and provide other security measures and the drill served to test safety systems Buckeye Local utilizes, such as the 360 Safe Solutions App created by START owner Frank Hoagland, who also co-founded 360 Safe Solutions with Joe Charles. While the scenario identified some areas which needed improvement, it ultimately proved to be successful.

“The drill went really well. We were testing the teachers’ performance and we ran the worst case scenario possible while inside the building,” he said. “There were two active shooters, and with school attacks happening in our nation, they happen in the morning or at lunch time (when there is more likely to be a crowd).”

He said there has generally been no way to maintain accountability of students in the midst of chaos, but the app used at Buckeye Local can be downloaded onto computers, iPads, and phones. The app gives users the ability to communicate on a secure platform with teachers, administrators, first responders, parents, and others; account for visitors, students, teachers, administrators, and school support personnel; and provide all school personnel with the means to conduct pre-emptive planning. When an emergency occurs, a school official can send an alert to teachers and others using the application. The message spreads via the technology and teachers, bus drivers, or other staffers can also note if students are present and accounted for, and the ultimate goal is to save lives.

The app is just one of many unique steps the district has taken as leaders previously implemented Z-Pass, which tracks students on buses, and NaviGate Prepared Systems, which provides views and details of school buildings that are available online to school officials and safety forces in the case of an emergency. Buckeye Local joined forces with START LLC and has also practiced for active shooter emergencies. START offers tailored training courses ranging from oil and gas safety classes, fire and rescue, SWAT Team and Irregular Warfare tactics, and techniques through the application and implementation of field craft specialized instruction. The site also looks at threat assessments, vulnerability assessments, risk analysis, and Counter Active Shooter Training.

Ciardelli said the drill tested the high school, which uses the app, and the junior high since it had none, and he praised the students and teachers for a job well done.

“The halls were cleared in under a minute and 32 seconds and the students who were locked down were out in an hour and 15 minutes. We had a couple of flaws that were fixable and one of the good things is we wanted to test the schools, but we also tested the hospitals.”

As a result, it also generated interest among the responders to conduct future meetings and discuss emergency plans. Ciardelli added that when officials first began talking about a drill last fall, it was an eye-opener for many local safety forces. Now, meetings are being planned to open further lines of communication among the groups and other talks are set with sheriff’s officials in Jefferson and Belmont counties. Moreover, the active shooter drill has created buzz at the state level.

“We had 35 law enforcement personnel involved and I was in contact with the Ohio State Highway Patrol posts in Wintersville and St. Clairsville,” Ciardelli added. “Next year, if we do continue this down the road, they want to be involved.”

He noted that officials were amazed that the scenario was conducted during an actual school day with 900 students in the building.

“Nothing but good things came down from the state level on about the drill. We ran it like something was really happening.”

“The only thing we’re trying to do is make sure everyone gets home safely,” Hoagland interjected.

Meanwhile, basic drills have been held at the elementary schools and teachers and administrators at all of the schools have undergone training to be certified to use the Less Than Lethal Options, a non-lethal weapon meant to subdue an attacker, while the district office has yet to be trained. Once the latter group is certified, Ciardelli said a drill may be conducted there.

On a related note, the district approved a contract with START LLC to provide CAST and security consulting to support a safer learning environment. The agreement, which is effective from Sept. 1, 2016, to June 1, 2017, is at a cost of $20,000.

Among other action, the board:

– Agreed to give interim treasurer Merri Matthews a permanent role with a two-year contract;

– Approved the five-year forecast, which Matthews said showed the district in the black over the next three years. Board President Joe Zelek said officials would keep an eye on spending;

– Recognized six school volunteers with certificates of appreciation;

– Renewed a contract with The Nutrition Group for food services and approved representatives’ request to add a third line in the high school cafeteria to better serve students an increase revenue, implement an afterschool meal program for students, and seek grant funding for equipment and programming;

– Agreed to continue promoting the schools through television ads, something which Buckeye Local Jr. High Principal Jason Kovalski said has benefitted the district. Advertisements will continue running over the next three months at a cost of $3,000;

– Learned that the district has been holding negotiations with Ohio Association of Public School Employees representatives and talks have gone well, while another session was scheduled for this Tuesday;

– Accepted a series of personnel matters, such as hiring four certified staff members and approving supplemental duties;

– Approved a 12-month staffing agreement with the Ohio Valley Energy Technology Academy for instructors Anthony Barsch and Kevin McCain;

– Set the next regular meeting on June 27 at 6 p.m. at the district office in Dillonvale.