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School shooting drill sparks emotional response

The rational part of my brain told me I was watching a practice drill.

As I stood in a second-floor hallway of Liberty High School, earplugs in place and ready for the first sounds of blanks being fired, one side of my brain was arguing with the other.

“It’s just a drill,” said my unbiased observer voice, ready to watch Hillsboro Police Department officers partake in a small-scale “active shooter” scenario; subsequent classroom search and secure; followed by a school evacuation.

But the emotional part of my brain was speaking louder that morning.

As a parent of a student at a high school in Hillsboro, the mere thought of anything like an active shooter in any of “my” schools is horrifying. I felt my shoulders tense and my stomach flutter.

As a reporter, it’s an equally horrifying thought that I would ever be called to report on such an incident. After the Reynolds High School shooting in June, that scenario hit far too close to home.

It is a surreal experience hearing gunshots echo down an empty school hallway — freshly cleaned, gleaming and ready for students to return again in September — and seeing armed police officers run by.

Then my rational side took over again.

As I scanned the small crowd of observers that had gathered —representatives from several nearby school districts and police departments, from as far away as Scappoose and Multnomah County — I knew what I was about to witness was a good thing.

Putting aside the sad commentary on our society that forces law enforcement officials, emergency medical personnel and school employees to spend precious hours preparing for an active school shooter scenario, this drill was a prime example of multiple public service agencies working together for the greater good.

On July 30, about 40 members of the Hillsboro Police Department, employees from the Hillsboro School District and crews from Hillsboro Fire & Rescue came together for the second and third phases of training that’s been years in the planning.

The first part of the drill that morning was to subdue the “shooter,” search and secure each classroom, and then, finally, evacuate students from the building in a safe and orderly fashion.

The second part was to bus the students to a safe place off-campus and conduct a “parent reunification drill,” all done on a very small scale, with about 40 children acting as the evacuated high school students.

The process was very interesting and educational for the unbiased observer side of me.

Then I got the chance to play the part of a “parent” picking up my “child” at the reunification site.

As I was handed a card to fill out with my name, my child’s name and other identifying information, the tense shoulders came back. So did the flutters.

“It’s just a drill,” said my rational voice. But if this were real, there would be no way I’d be calmly chatting with other “parents” while we waited to be officially escorted to our waiting “children.” I wouldn’t be cajoling the reunification team members who couldn’t find “Number 39” (my pretend child), in the crowd.

If this were real, there would be 20 or even 30 times as many worried, upset parents present, all anxious to know their children are safe. I’m sure the thought of such a scene gave pause to many others that day.

As I reflect on the drill, I can’t help but feel grateful for the efforts of the Hillsboro police, fire and school district to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

As a parent and a community member, I’m confident these agencies place the safety of our children first and foremost.

“It’s just a drill.”

Let’s keep it that way.

Kathy Fuller is a reporter for the Hillsboro

Tribune.



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