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Union Local holds active shooter drill to prepare students, staff

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Belmont County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy James Zusack shows a gun loaded with blanks, which he used during an active shooter drill in the Union Local School District on Friday.

BELMONT — The sound of gunfire exploded in the halls of Union Local High School and Middle School on Friday morning, with staff ducking for cover and students barricading themselves in their classrooms or hurrying to the exits.

It was all part of an active shooter drill designed to determine if students, staff and first responders are prepared should they have to face the real thing.

About 600 high school and middle school students participated, along with staff and first responders from the surrounding communities. Law enforcement and the county coroner were involved as well.

Chief Deputy James Zusack with the Belmont County Sheriff’s Office played the role of the shooter.

During an assembly prior to the drill, he showed students a gun loaded with blanks and test-fired it so they would recognize the sound. About 15 minutes later, the faux shooter was roaming the halls searching for targets.

The entire incident from the first shots fired until the arrival of law enforcement to eliminate the threat took less than five minutes.

“It helps us be prepared in case something happens,” UL Safety Director Mike Menges said.

Once the schools were secure, emergency medical responders swarmed in to render aid to the designated “wounded.”

School officials said one of the most important elements of the ALICE program — or Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate — is that it trains participants about adaptability, including whether to hide, resist or flee depending on the circumstances and the shooter’s location.

Superintendent Ben Porter said the district holds an ALICE training once every three years.

“All our safety drills we take seriously. Whether it’s a fire drill, a tornado drill, we try to put our students and staff in the best positions to know how to respond,” Porter said. “We want to identify the things that we need to correct. It’s a drill and it’s practice and we know it won’t be perfect, but we want to be as close to perfect as possible.”

Later that afternoon, officials held a lower-stress drill for elementary school students.

Afterward, Zusack said the drill was largely a success.

The students “did a real good job in terms of following instructions and being out of my sight,” Zusack said. “They did really well.

“It’s good training to have. You’ve got to brush up on your skills every once and awhile to see how everybody works together,” he continued. “That’s why we do this, so we get everybody together on the same page.”

Zusack added that there are a few “tweaks” to be made in terms of communication and coordination between responders. The need for those adjustments were revealed by the drill.

“I think it went very smoothly,” Keira Gregor, a senior from Bethesda who played the role of a shooting victim, said. “The gunshots were very scary. It just was not expected. … We just have to remain calm. … The (responders) knew exactly what they were doing. They knew exactly how to treat the injured. It moved very smoothly.”

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