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Lisbon drill aims to improve emergency response


LISBON — Dressed in camouflage garb and hoodies, two armed men entered the Lisbon Central School cafeteria Thursday and opened fire, their assault with blank rounds of ammunition designed to simulate a real school shooting and test the response of school and emergency personnel.

The men were state troopers, and the cafeteria was full of cadets from the St. Lawrence Law Enforcement Academy in Canton. Planned after the Connecticut school massacre, the live-shooter drill was designed to give law enforcement officers and Lisbon Central School staff members a feel for how they should react in a real attack.

They took away several lessons from the drill — the first locally to include school staff members — that will be evaluated in coming weeks to improve security preparations.

“We’ve been setting this up for about two and a half to three months,” said state police Sgt. Chad K. Niles, the officer in charge of the operation.

In an actual shooting at the school, “it would be every cop in the north country” responding, Mr. Niles said.

State police organized the drill, which was also attended by Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection, the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department and Ogdensburg city police personnel. Students did not participate; school was dismissed early for the exercise.

The exercise focused on the cafeteria and middle school wing of the school. Middle school teachers were sent to their classrooms with other teachers filling in as students.

Mr. Niles told staff to carry out their plan and “be wherever you would be at 11:45 a.m.”

As soon as the shooters, carrying starter pistols and a .308 rifle loaded with blanks, opened fire, the cadets in the cafeteria scattered. Several were “killed”; others managed to escape.

High School Principal Eric S. Burke used the school’s public announcement system to alert staff to go into lockdown.

Teachers locked classroom doors, turned off lights and covered windows with whatever they had available — flags, paper, cardboard.

“Excellent job with the lockdown,” Mr. Niles told the teachers after the drill.

He said he plans to ensure law enforcement agents have school maps and know how to use them effectively.

The biggest problem for agents was the size of the building. Gunshots in the cafeteria were difficult to hear from the main entrance and radio transmissions were often lost.

He said he hoped the drill “might have opened some eyes.”

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