UPPER DARBY — Just over six months after a student threatened to shoot up the campus, Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School on Monday morning acted like it was a reality.
Swarms of police cars and county emergency responders surrounded the school as students stayed locked down in their classrooms as part of two training exercises that were being played out to allow the Active Shooter Rescue Task Force to practice their plans if a shooting, like in a school, ever occurred.
This task force is one that more quickly attends to injured victims and to eliminate the time it may otherwise take to start caring for their injuries after a mass shooting in a public place.
“For about six months we’ve been planning on an operational exercise after some classroom training to try and refine our rescue task force concepts,” said Upper Darby Police Capt. Tom Johnson. “This exercise today was the practical application of some theory that we’ve been working on to try and identify the seriously injured folks that are generated from one of these hostile event incidents, to make sure we prioritize resources so we can identify the wounded, rescue them, evacuate them and cut down their time to doctors and surgeons as much as we can.”
With help from a number of law enforcement agencies, fire departments and county services, Johnson was able to coordinate and record two exercises at the school to see how emergency personnel handles identifying victims and rescuing them. This is the training exercise established by Johnson to incorporate supporting victim rescue into the normal process of locating the shooter, securing the building and securing the students.
“It’s an equal set of priorities started in 2014, and there is now enough info and buy in from all disciplines to get us to this point today,” said Johnson about the task force.
A task force team is consisted of one medical provider, three or four firefighters and two escort police officers.
For the exercises, students from the Delaware County Community College theater program portrayed a number of victims who told police and fire crews what their injuries were as they laid out in the hallways to simulate a tragic scene. Some of the actors reporting severe injuries were carried out on soft stretchers and backboards. Police officers navigated hallways checking on victims and establishing that the scene was secure.
Monday’s practice scenarios provided an extra bit of training that the first responders did not get in their respective trainings for their professions.
“We got a lot of chances to observe a lot of behaviors from responders,” said Johnson. “We saw the instincts of the police officers of what they’ve been trained to do and, now, what we’re trying to do. Same with the firefighters, paramedics.”
Johnson added that firefighters and paramedics who are part of the rescue task force are now being asked to be more included and more integrated into the scene than keeping their distance as they’re used to.
“In this particular scenario there isn’t enough time to sterilize the scene for them to start coming in to take care of people because the life-threatening injuries evolve too quickly,” he said. “It’s much sooner than they’re (firefighters and paramedics) used to doing it and that goes against their core training, and it goes against our training of bringing people that aren’t able to defend themselves into tense circumstances before we would like them to be there.”
It was no coincidence that Bonner & Prendie hosted this exercise after Taiwanese foreign exchange student An-Tso Sun said he was “joking” back in March to shoot up the school located in Drexel Hill. He was arrested for the threat and pleaded guilty to a federal charge of possession of ammunition.
Bonner & Prendie President John Cooke said the school has been working with Johnson since then to make sure that the school’s own security policies and plans were acceptable for such an event.
“We have a great partnership with the Upper Darby Police Department and I think it was really important for us to continue that partnership through this program today,” said Cooke. “We’ve had our share of moments here at B-P, but to go through the process of a lockdown and hearing everything I think is very impactful for our students to make sure they feel safe and secure.”
When asked how it feels to be an administrator of a school at a time when school shootings have become more prevalent, Cooke said it is a sad time.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s a reality,” he said. After the threat made by Sun, Cooke said the community responded well to that potentially horrific event, and, “in most situations when this happens anywhere it makes you stronger.”
Johnson said he hopes he never has to enforce the task force plans.
“We’re all getting used to a new dynamic. We’re locking in the training now and we’re going to keep practicing.”