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First responders are ready, if the worst happens

It was only a drill, as the Whiteside County Emergency Preparedness Task Force turned the hallways of Sterling High School into the scene of a school shooting. Area first responders have now gained new expertise. We hope their skills are never put to the test.

Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

In the good old summertime, thoughts of school are far away from the minds of most people, but not from those who belong to the Whiteside County Emergency Preparedness Task Force.

Empty school hallways and vacant classrooms present a golden opportunity to conduct emergency drills to test responses, preparedness, and teamwork.

Motivated by December’s deadly school shooting at Newtown, Conn., the Task Force chose to conduct a live shooter drill at Sterling High School.

Many people got involved: police officers, sheriff’s deputies, a tactical response team, firefighters, ambulance squads, and paramedics, not to mention custodians, secretaries, and principals who watched the drill on closed-circuit TV. Even students were recruited to portray victims.

Local first responders got a real taste of the mayhem associated with such senseless attacks: gunshots, screams, shouts, and bloody victims. Along the way, they absorbed realistic lessons that could be applied in the future.

Sterling Police Chief Ron Potthoff, who led the drill, said it was the first time emergency medical personnel and police officers practiced their responses together.

Involving school staffers was also important, so that they would be exposed to different possible scenarios that could occur in a crisis situation. Staffers learned, for example, that police officers likely would not stop to help the wounded while an active shooter was still on the loose. Their first priority would be to halt further shootings.

From our perspective, the drill organizers and the staff at Sterling High School deserve praise for allowing a Sauk Valley Media reporter and photographer to attend, observe, and chronicle what happened. They were extremely accommodating, which led to a complete report to our readers of what transpired.

No one likes to think that such an act of violence could be attempted here, but that’s what people probably thought at Newtown, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and NIU.

It would be impossible for a drill to cover every scenario, but the basic coordination of departments and communication among them are similar.

Because of the successful live shooter drill, local first responders have gained new expertise. We hope, however, that those skills are never put to the test.

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