A full-scale safety drill at all three Defiance City Schools campuses was held Thursday morning, with first responders, several county agencies and other entities involved in the drill. Ohio law requires a full-scale drill of this kind every three years, and as superintendent Bob Morton explained, unfortunately drills like these are required because of what is taking place in society.
“Statistically speaking, it’s very unlikely that a scenario such as an active shooter will take place (in a school), but unfortunately we have to plan for it, and many other scenarios like it, and be ready to engage in the safety protocols that are in place,” said Morton, minutes before the drill began. “All schools in Ohio have been doing fire drills and tornado drills forever, but now these safety drills are in place because in today’s age, it’s relative to the times.”
At approximately 9:22 a.m. Thursday, the safety drill began when Morton received a call from Defiance High School principal Jay Jerger that a 911 call had been made due to an active-shooter scenario. Morton was informed that the (fake) threat had been neutralized by school resource officer John Williamson, but that there was a need for law enforcement and fire/rescue personnel at the school.
The call triggered an immediate lockdown at the Claude W. Henkle building that houses the district offices and the preschool program, Defiance Elementary School, Defiance Middle School, Defiance High School and the Defiance Area YMCA. The scenario called for a handful of people to be taken to area hospitals (Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center Life Flight was also on the scene), and for approximately 150 students to be evacuated to a designated area.
Designated areas close to the scene also were selected for police personnel and fire personnel to meet, and a command center was put in place so that Morton, Assistant Police Chief Lee Martinez, Fire Chief Bill Wilkins, and other essential first responders and personnel could control the response to the situation. Roads were closed near the schools during the drill.
“We started putting our updated safety plans together in May of last year, and that meeting included school administrators, and personnel from the police, fire and sheriff’s departments, the Ohio Highway Patrol, the Defiance city street department, the YMCA, the Emergency Management Agency, local clergy ... there were 21 of us in attendance,” said Morton. “The plans were finalized on Aug. 7, and a lot of work went into prepping our students and our staff at the school.”
As the scenario unfolded and first responders were sent to their respective campuses, Defiance Elementary was given all-clear by law enforcement at approximately 9:33 a.m. Morton gave the signal to resume normal activities at the school at around 9:50 a.m. The same order was given by Morton at 9:45 a.m. to central office and preschool personnel.
Meanwhile, law enforcement personnel responded to the 911 call immediately at the Defiance Middle/High School campus. After assessing the situation, the call for fire/rescue personnel was made and first responders raced to the scene, where they arrived at approximately 9:43 a.m. The call to evacuate the floor of the high school, in which the scenario took place, came at 9:46 a.m., with four buses dispatched to the scene.
At 10 a.m., those needing (fake) medical attention were taken from the scene to area hospitals (that’s when Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center Life Flight arrived on the scene), and the evacuation of approximately 150 students began. By 10:12 a.m., the evacuation was complete, and students were taken to a safe location and accounted for by school personnel.
At 10:22 a.m., the scene was listed as all clear, and at 10:24 a.m., the call was made to bring evacuated students back to the high school. Following the all clear, personnel from the many agencies involved the drill met to discuss how the plan was executed, what changes to the plan, if any, need to be made, what went well, and what needs to be improved.
Coordinating at the command center during the drill were Martinez; Defiance police officer Alex Naton; Wilkins; Capt. Kenton McQuillin of the Defiance Fire Department; Scott Buddelmeyer, emergency management liaison at Mercy Defiance Hospital; Jimmy Higgins, a lieutenant with Mercy Health Police; and Defiance County 911 director Matt Hanenkrath.
“The whole goal was to test the plan put in place by all the agencies,” said Wilkins. “It’s given us a learning experience for my young staff, some of them have never participated in these types of events, dispatch had some new personnel participate, and we used a new radio frequency we haven’t used before, and overall I thought it went very well. Overall, it was a great learning experience to test new equipment and work together.”
Martinez also was impressed with the collaboration of all the agencies involved.
“Some of the essentials to making this work well are getting everyone in place quickly, and communicating well with each other,” said Martinez. “The reason we do these drills is so that we can be as prepared as we can, and to see if our plan, our blueprint, works the way we planned. All in all, this drill went very well, there are always some things we can learn from and we will, but I thought all the agencies and everyone at the school worked very well together.”
Said Buddelmeyer: “We were to be here today to help coordinate what we could, and do what we can for the community. A request for a helicopter was made and we were happy to oblige, because it was a great opportunity for us to collaborate with all the other agencies, and for our hospital to be prepared in the event, heaven forbid, a mass-casualty situation would arise.”
On the cover: In the photo at left, Bob Morton, superintendent of Defiance City Schools (left); Bill Wilkins, chief of the Defiance Fire Department (center); and Lee Martinez, assistant chief of the Defiance Police Department, discuss operations during a full-scale safety drill that took place at all three Defiance City School campuses on Thursday.
In the center photo, Matt Hanenkrath, Defiance County 911 director (left); Scott Buddelmeyer, emergency management liaison at Mercy Defiance Hospital (second from left); Jimmy Higgins, a lieutenant with Mercy Health Police (center); Bill Wilkins, chief of the Defiance Fire Department (second from right); and Kenton McQuillin, captain of the Defiance Fire Department, have a discussion following the full-scale safety drill at Defiance City Schools their organizations took part in on Thursday.
In the photo at right, Martinez (left), Todd Shafer, chief of Defiance Police (center); and Alex Naton of the Defiance Police Department, confer following the full-scale safety drill that took place Thursday on the Defiance City Schools campuses.