There was no cause for alarm when police, firefighters and EMTs amassed at Parkland High School in August. It was all part of an “active shooter” simulation to prepare staff and first responders for an emergency not unlike what befell a Connecticut elementary school Friday.
South Whitehall Lt. John Christman, aware of the news reports of a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, said Friday, "It's an unfortunate thing that today law enforcement has to train for this. It's regrettable."
Christman was part of the team that helped coordinate the hours-long drill in August at the high school that was held with fire companies, municipal and state police, Cetronia Ambulance, the Lehigh County communications center and area hospitals. Helicopters from Lehigh Valley Hospital and St. Luke’s University Hospital landed on the school's baseball field to accommodate "wounded."
The following month, law enforcement swarmed the high school again when there was an actual report of an intruder. The lockdown and manhunt -- triggered when a teacher saw a "suspicious" student in a flak jacket -- turned out to be a false alarm, but it gave law enforcement another opportunity to test their response skills and protocols.
Parkland Superintendent Richard Sniscak had already heard Friday's tragic news about the mass shooting in Connecticut when contacted by Patch. "First and foremost," he said, "as a father my heart breaks for the students and families impacted by this terrible tragedy in CT."
Parkland's drill in August started with a report of a shooting in the high school auditorium. Local law enforcement officals, beginning with South Whitehall and Allentown police departments, rushed to the school with ambulances and SWAT teams right behind them. The drill tested how law enforcement and school officials would react in the event of a mass shooting there.
"In general, the training we conducted ... gave us cause to make changes in our incident command structure, our communication plans, changes in the amount and allocation of resources along with added internal safety measures that we could enact," Sniscak said.
He was hesitant to share specifics in order to not compromise safety.
The drill was paid for with a $16,000 state grant.