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Drill preps West Mifflin school for emergency

| Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 5:11 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
FBI Agent Ed Daer of the Pittsburgh division reviews concepts with West Mifflin police Chief Ken Davies and West Mifflin Area Superintendent Daniel Castagna during a safety presentation and drill on Thursday.

For a few intense hours on Thursday afternoon, West Mifflin Area Middle School was under lockdown.

As teachers and administrators from across the district assembled in preparation for Monday's first day of classes, West Mifflin police swarmed the building in coordination with local FBI agents, all under the pretense that an active shooter was inside.

Thankfully, none of it was real. But organizers of the school district's safety initiative hope it was real enough that staff members will be prepared if the unthinkable ever makes its way into a district building.

Superintendent Dr. Daniel Castagna said the exercise serves two purposes.

“This simulates an active intruder, which is a type of drill we've never done with our staff in the past,” he said. “But we're also hoping it raises awareness of every staff member's role in our overall security plan. They have tasks they need to do every single day and we want to mimic a real-life situation to work on stress inoculation — so if something like this ever happens, everyone has been there before and won't have to panic.”

The idea for the drill stemmed from Mark Hart, the district's director of security and safety programs.

“I've always thought that even the best written plans in the world quickly become the worst if no one has an understanding of what those plans really entail,” said Hart. “It's a typical American attitude to think that (the shootings) at Columbine and Sandy Hook are over and to go back to complacency after a few months. Schools are still the safest place in the world for our kids, but the way things are in the world today, you have to constantly prepare for things you can never expect.”

Hart worked with district administrators, West Mifflin police and training specialists with the Pittsburgh branch of the FBI to create an agenda for the event that included violent videos from previous tragedies, a seminar on assessing threatening behaviors and a realistic walkthrough of what would happen in the event that a shooter would gain entrance into any of the district's buildings.

West Mifflin police Chief Kenneth Davies said, although the district thankfully never has had to deal with an incident quite like this, it's a valuable exercise not only for district employees but for local law enforcement.

“It's important for us to get training in the schools like this,” Davies said. “This is just a proactive attempt to make sure we are all cooperatively maintaining a safe environment.”

Hart said the drill is another example of how he believes the district is at the forefront of safety initiatives.

“My ultimate goal is for when parents are dropping kids off,” he said. “I want them to look in their rear view mirror and know that their kid is in a safe place.”

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1970, or