A series of air horns sounded around 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Austintown Intermediate School building.
Then, Patrolman Allen Phillips of the Austintown Police Department, acting as the "shooter," fired off some blanks near the AIS building's main entrance before proceeding.
Soon after those first shots, a warning was issued over the school's PA advising that there was an active shooter in the building.
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Austintown police patrolmen Ryan Reese, Dan Burich and Curt Ingram were some of the department’s staff who took part Friday in the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training to prepare school district staff for a potential active shooter emergency.
Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the The Boy Scouts Association once said, "The meaning of the motto 'Be Prepared' is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise."
This comment also could have applied to the Austintown police and the school staff, who jointly took part in the ALICE (Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate) training Friday to prepare them for a potential shooter emergency. While it was a day off for students, the joint effort still brought a feel of realism that is changing what some teachers are doing.
"We fired live blank rounds," Patrolman Keith Smith said. "We wanted the school staff to hear and experience the sound."
The Austintown police used eight officers to help pull off the training sessions, which were staged in each individual school building on the school campus.
As for the teachers, they had to make a choice when they heard the gun fire and the announcement there was a live shooter in the building. Smith said the teachers had to decide whether to run, hide or fight based on the information at hand.
Phillips said the police department has been doing ALICE training for about five years and has been training for active shooters since Columbine.
Throughout the drill, Phillips fired blanks intermittently, checking rooms to make sure the doors were locked. For a while on the second floor of AIS, Phillips refrained from firing to give the impression he had left or was reloading, hoping to coax someone out of hiding.
Eventually, after about six and a half minutes, another officer with an assault rifle intercepted Phillips as he turned a corner and the drill was brought to an end. An all-clear alert sounded, and the teachers and officers gathered in the cafeteria to discuss how the drill went.
"The biggest challenge to overcome is the initial shock," Smith said.
Jeff Swavel, the AIS building principal, said the ALICE training was good for keeping the teachers on their toes and for learning what the school can improve on and plan for.
"It's definitely helpful; teachers love to follow rules and be told what to do if something happens, so it's good to put teachers in a position where they have to improvise," Swavel said.
When the word came over the intercom earlier Friday at Austintown Elementary School that the shooter was in the kindergarten wing, teachers in other ends of the building chose to run for it and they quickly left the building. The teachers in the kindergarten area chose to hide by locking their doors and shutting off room lights.
"The teachers needed to make the call on the best course to take," Smith said. "When the announcement came out for a lock down, they had to decide quickly, then move."
First-grade teacher Amy Brungard said when she heard gunshots she moved fast.
"I locked my room door first and hid in the room with the lights off," she said. "I stayed there until I heard the shooter was in the kindergarten wing. That was our chance to run."
After the live scenario came to an end, the staff and officers gathered in the auditorium where they went over the session. Among the most important advice police gave was for the teacher to barricade themselves in their rooms and to find out how to easily lock all their doors.
"The biggest threat to a shooter is the teacher in that room," Smith said. "That teacher can barricade the door and slow the shooter down."
He said the more a teacher can place in front of the door, the harder it will be for the bad guy to gain entrance. A good barricade can cost seconds, and that may be just enough time for the police to arrive and end the situation, Smith said.
Brungard said she looked at her own room afterward and noticed the wheeled book carts were near the door, while heavier solid shelf units were in the back of the room. She plans to move the heavier shelves near the door to have a better barricade.
They also discussed tactics if something were to begin in a location such as the playground or the cafeteria, stressing that teachers should be prepared to choose fight or flight depending on the situation.
"We learned a lot of things we didn't know," AES Principal Tom Lenton said. "It was a good learning opportunity for all of our staff."
Police Lt. Tom Collins said the day went well and his department is hoping to expand on the training. In fact, the one item teachers brought up afterward was that they wished they could have more training like that. Collins said his department will look at all four buildings and evaluate the benefits and the mishaps during each exercise.
"We're supposed to do school training once every year, which usually is just a lecture, so we take it a step further," said Collins, who said the drill isn't just to prepare teachers but to help teach the police what they can do more efficiently in the future.
Collins said the police would like to see the simulation expanded to potentially include officers firing simunition rounds, simulating people getting injured and including EMS.
He added that Austintown has an unusual setting that requires a different approach to training.
"We are like Youngstown State University," Collins said. "We have 110 acres and all our school buildings are on the one campus."