The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

March 17, 2014

Drill tests emergency responses

Schools host mock intruder situation

By Ritchie Starnes, News Editor

Monday, March 17, 2014 — What if an armed intruder entered one of Stanly County’s schools?

That’s the question local leaders want answered. It’s also the motivation behind Friday’s drill designed to test how everyone associated with such a crisis would respond.

“It’s something the schools’ superintendent (Terry Griffin) thought was important because of the day and age that we live in,” said Art Whittaker, director of transportation and coordinator for safety for Stanly County Schools.

“We practice tornado and fire drills. We thought it was important to have an intruder drill, too.”

School officials initiated the call for a drill, reaching out to local authorities about a planned event.

“We pitched the idea and they took the ball and ran with it,” Whittaker said.

The decision to simulate an intruder follows other school shootings across the country.

On Dec. 14, 2012, a 20-year-old gunman fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members in a mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It was the second-deadliest mass shooting by a single person in American history, after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, and the second-deadliest mass murder at a U.S. elementary school.

Newtown is a small town and not unlike Albemarle or any other muncipality in the county.

“Small communities are more vulnerable,” Albemarle Police Capt. Jesse Huneycutt said.

Because of that vulnerability, Huneycutt, who oversees the Police Department’s training, law enforcement and other emergency responders decided to examine how they would handle a gunman in a school.

“School shootings are happening nationally and our community wants to be prepared,” Huneycutt said.

“This gives us a chance to tax our system.”

Local law enforcement and other emergency services beseiged Albemarle High School Friday afternoon after all students were gone from the facility.

Albemarle High faculty and staff remained at the school during the drill as well as faculty from other schools that volunteered to participate.

Students from Stanly Community College and teens from the police and EMS Explorers program also served as volunteers.

The drill called for an armed man to enter the front entrance of the school, signaled by a simulated explosion from a flashbang device, or stun grenade, typically used in police raids to create confusion among suspects inside closed quarters.

Once inside the gunman roamed the facility and fired randomly at students and staff.

Participants were kept in the dark about how the events would unfold.

“They’re not telling us how it’s going to happen by design,” Whittaker said.

“If it’s scripted, it’s not a good test.”

When the drill started the school engaged its protocol for a lockdown.

School and law enforcement leaders remained in the main office and watched a security monitor that provides more than 25 different vantage points throughout the campus.

The intruder was instructed to execute specific incidents so law enforcement could evaluate its response, Huneycutt said.

Other responders included Albemarle firefighters and EMS, since the simulation included injured victims.

“It takes a lot of resources to make this happen,” Huneycutt said.

A makeshift triage unit was set up in the school’s media center.

Although law enforcement frequently participate in rapid response training, Friday’s drill marked the first of its kind here at a county school.

Plans call for a second drill before the end of the school year. That simulation will likely take place at a larger campus, Whittaker said.

To submit story ideas, contact Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28 or email