Local Schools Run Active Shooter Drill in Teaneck
Teaneck—The words Sandy Hook and Columbine are enough to send chills down every parent’s spine. To many, these communities are infamous for only one thing: mass school shootings. In 2015, close to 300 mass shootings were recorded, and approximately 70 of them occurred in schools.
Most law enforcement agencies are of the opinion that it’s a “when,” not an “if,” that they will face an active mass shooter. They have been training on active shooter drills for decades, and many municipal police departments in our region run a large drill annually. Due to the changing times and the increase in global terrorism, some jurisdictions now drill in live exercises every month. School security teams are now drilling, collaboratively with local law enforcement, in much the same way.
Public-school administrators are required, yearly, to sign a Department of Education-mandated memorandum of understanding with their local chief of police or other law enforcement agency, which enumerates a specific plan of action regarding an active shooter scenario in addition to other mass emergency that might occur on campus. Private schools in our region, while not subjected to the same DOE mandate, have voluntarily and enthusiastically partnered with their law enforcement agencies to put in place robust plans of action for a wide variety of emergency scenarios.
Last Thursday evening, at Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, along with the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey Association of School Resource Officers, and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office joined with representatives of several police jurisdictions in Bergen County to guide day school administrators of all local yeshiva day schools and high schools in an active shooter tabletop exercise. The event was sponsored by the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center—TEACH NJS.
There were more than 80 people in the room, and everyone was given the same active shooter scenario to work through. Day school representatives teamed with law enforcement professionals from the towns where the schools are located. The scenario described a particular time of day and asked the school administrators, generally the heads of school, directors of administration and directors of security, to discuss and agree on their plan of action and then report it to the group.
The administrators’ presentations varied only slightly based on their locations, unique building setup and proximities to other schools or institutions. Several strategies related to lockdown and shelter-in-place orders were discussed, and administrators shared their set plans to deal with initial reports from their armed security guards, and their plans to put in place command posts, create lines of constant communication with law enforcement, and initiate mass texting, email or WhatsApp communications with parents outside and other teachers and administrators.
The overarching goal is to minimize casualties and get municipal law enforcement on the scene as quickly as possible. “We’re going to listen for gunfire, and go toward it,” said one town’s chief of police. Officers from other jurisdictions also have plans in place to work cooperatively in such situations, and K-9 units, SWAT teams and other kinds of special units are available to schools.
The tabletop exercise then drilled the administrator of the “part two” of such a scenario, i.e., the aftermath when the shooter or shooters have been neutralized. This involved evacuation, transport, interviewing witnesses and dealing with media.
The event was planned by the New Jersey region of Orthodox Union Advocacy Center-TEACH NJS. Learn more at TEACHNJS.org. Those interested in the NJ Office Homeland Security information are invited to visit http://www.njhomelandsecurity.gov/homeland-security-resources.
By Elizabeth Kratz