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'I Love U Guys' for REAL

Several hundred volunteers help simulate response to an emergency incident on a Hillsboro school campus

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Volunteers acting as parents crowd a check-in table at the Hillsboro Stadium where the Hillsboro School District held a drill April 8. The drill simulated the process of reuniting parents with their children in the event a school had to be evacuated for safety purposes.No one wants to imagine a threat to students on a local K-12 campus, but in Hillsboro, officials are facing that possibility head on — and trying to limit the chaos that could ensue afterward.

Hillsboro School District, Hillsboro Police Department and Hillsboro Fire and Rescue conducted a parent reunification drill at Hillsboro Stadium Friday morning, April 8, to simulate the response that would take place in the wake of such an incident.

About 300 students and 200 parent volunteers helped school district personnel practice their roles in setting up an off-site reunification area where — in the case of a school evacuation — parents would be directed to go to pick up their children.

The three-hour drill, led by school district Safety Emergency Manager Michelle Brady, put into action the district’s reunification plan, which is modeled after the Standard Reunification Method developed by the “I Love U Guys Foundation.” The foundation focuses on school safety protocols and was formed by John-Michael and Ellen Keyes after their daughter Emily was shot by a gunman at Platte Canyon High School in Colorado in 2006.

Emily Keyes, who was 16, text-messaged “I Love U Guys” to her father shortly before she died. John-Michael Keyes quit his job in 2009 and started working with his wife to promote the work of their nonprofit.

“Everything looks really great on paper, but until we put this into practice, we don’t know” where adjustments and changes must be made, Brady said Monday.

Student volunteers were bused to Hillsboro Stadium to wait in the stands for their “parents” to pick them up. Parent volunteers, each assigned the name of a student to pick up, re-created a scene of anxious parents eager to hear news of the well-being of their student. They were shepherded through waiting lines to present their identification to district personnel, ushered to another waiting area where their information was double-checked and eventually reunited with their student.HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - School district staff gathered for last-minute instructions before last Friday's parent reunification drill began.

All through the process, staff from the district’s administration office accompanied each “parent.” A few “special circumstances” were thrown into the mix, Brady said.

Parent volunteer Lyrene Cooney, for example, said her scenario was that her “daughter’s” name was not on the list of students to be picked up. After some moments of confusion, she was asked by a reunification volunteer if her daughter might go by a different name. That was the case and the two were eventually reunited.

Cooney said the drill felt realistic. “I’m a mess,” she said. “Can you imagine standing there for hours and not hearing from your kid?”

Oftentimes, Brady said, a child’s preferred last name is not his or her legal last name. Some may use one last name even though they legally have a hyphenated last name. Small details are important in a real situation, where confusion can make the situation worse, she added.

Following the drill, Brady said, volunteers filled out surveys about their experience. “The parents really did feel supported through the process. The staff connected with them and were helpful,” she said. “It’s always going to be chaotic, but if we can support our parents we’re doing it right.”

The size of the drill, although large-scale, didn’t simulate the evacuation of one of the district’s larger schools — such as high schools and middle schools — which enroll 800 or more students.

In the case of an actual incident, said Lt. Henry Reimann of the Hillsboro Police Department, police and first responders from other agencies would be on hand to assist at the reunification site.

“Our first job is the threat at the school,” Reimann said of the police.

Hillsboro schools, police and fire and other emergency response agencies have a history of strong collaboration.HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Volunteers outside the Hillsboro Stadium gates create a scene of anxious parents waiting to pick up their children.

A multi-day school violence simulation in 2012 at South Meadows Middle School allowed all shifts of emergency response teams to participate. The event was filmed and has been made available for training purposes to other communities around the country.

In 2014, police conducted a small-scale active shooter drill at Liberty High School, followed by a student evacuation to the stadium and reunification with parents. That drill was with fewer than 100 students.

“These drills provide us with a unique and valuable opportunity to put our plans into action,” says Casey Waletich, the school district’s executive director of facilities, planning and operations. “We are very grateful to our partners in police and fire for helping us with the logistics and execution of these events so we can enhance the knowledge of our staff and increase the safety of our schools and students.”

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HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Hillsboro School District staff acted in a variety of roles, including interpreter, parent check-in supervisor and checker as they practiced a parent reunification drill at the Hillsboro Stadium last Friday, April 8.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Hillsboro Police Department Lt. Henry Reimann chats with Hillsboro School District Superintendent Mike Scott at the district's large-scale parent reunification drill.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Volunteers acting as parents crowd a check-in table at the Hillsboro Stadium where the Hillsboro School District held a drill April 8. The drill simulated the process of reuniting parents with their children in the event a school had to be evacuated for safety purposes.