It was an impressive and intimidating sight. Dozens of police officers and heavily armed members of the county SWAT team swarmed on Guttenberg’s only elementary school, Anna L. Klein School, converging on the third floor. A perpetrator was holed up in a bathroom.
Securing the hallway, they arrested the suspect and swept through the rest of the building, ensuring the safety of the students.
Luckily, the whole event was an exercise. The guns were made of red plastic to ensure they weren’t confused with real weapons. And the perpetrator was a police dispatcher who volunteered to be bad guy for a day.
“We did this exercise in cooperation with the police department and the sheriff’s office of Hudson County,” said Educational Leader Donna Grzybowski, acting principal of the school. “It was a simulation of an intruder in the third floor bathroom. We notified the local police department, and Guttenberg units responded first.”
“It’s a great exercise to be prepared and I think all the school districts should do it throughout the county.” –Frank Schillari
A first for Hudson County
“We’re required to do one security drill a month and one fire drill,” said School Security Officer James Staszak. Security drills include bomb threats, relocation drills, and lockdowns. “The lockdown is just to clear the hallways for medical emergencies, things like that where there’s not a real threat.”
“I get on the speaker, I announce the code, and they know,” said Grzybowski. “The teachers know and the kids know.”
Full scale drills are usually done once a year in coordination with the Police Department, although not to this extent.
“The state calls this a ‘response to the active shooter,’” explained Staszak. “A threat of someone inside the building.”
“We’re the only ones in the county who have ever done this,” said Guttenberg Police Chief Joel Magenheimer, who recently retired. “We do it on our own as a Police Department but not with SWAT like we had an active shooter.”
“This is the first time that a municipality had called us to do a drill like this,” said Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari. “It was their program, their exercise. We just assisted.”
And where were the kids during all this? “The teachers have areas in their rooms where they make the kids stay so they’re out of the line of sight of the door,” said Grzybowski. “So the kids will be in their lockdown positions for the drill. The idea is to keep them out of sight of the windows so they don’t see what’s going on, and so the perpetrator wouldn’t know how many kids are in there or if the room is empty. The idea is to make them pass by the room.”
Unlike a live situation, teachers were asked to stand by the doors and watch the drill to get a sense of how events would play out in real life.
Guttenberg Investigator Shaundell Barker was inside the building, coordinating communications during the drill and videotaping the officers’ response.
“What we do is we use [the video] for training purposes in-house,” Barker said. “From a tactical standpoint we can go over everything from the way they came in to the way they position themselves. We can practice. That’s the key.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.