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Kiski Area's disaster plans called successful

| Sunday, March 25, 2007

Kiski Area School district and Allegheny Township officials said they now know they have a disaster plan that would work in case of an act of school violence or disaster.

Saturday morning's drill involving a mock shooting spree at Kiski Area High School was not without problems. But the problems encountered -- mostly involving communications between police or rescue personnel at several staging areas on and off the sprawling school campus -- were identified.

"The district is trying to be proactive," said Superintendent John Meighan. "This is not a demonstration to show the public we can handle a situation, but to show where the weak points are in the plan."

Dozens of students, parents, emergency personnel, and school district and township officials volunteered to participate in a full-scale mock disaster drill Saturday morning that pointed out flaws in the plan that was recently put into place.

Meighan said the plan focuses on the worst-case scenario: a gunman entering the building and opening fire.

"If we can handle this situation, then we can handle things like chemical spills or a fire," Meighan said. "We choose the high school because it has the most number of entrances. If we can handle a situation on the high school campus, then we can handle one at each of the elementary schools."

Currently, there are about 1,500 students, grades 9 through 12 at the high school, said Michael Rowe, principal of Washington and North Washington elementary schools who served as media liaison.

In the intense two hours and 19 minutes that school district and township officials focused on the mock disaster drill, few problems had been reported.

"All went very well," said Allegheny Township Manager David Soboslay. "We have identified the weaknesses of where there are communication problems and why."

The mock shooting

As the 9 a.m. disaster drill played on into the morning, police from Allegheny Township, Vandergrift and Kiski Valley state police raced to the high school campus.

Fire departments from Markle, Allegheny Township, and West Leechburg were activated to provide safety and assurance on the campus.

School buses were staged at the nearby Giant Eagle and responded to evacuate students from the high school campus.

Parents were directed to the parking lot of Peebles in the Hyde Park Shopping Plaza where they waited to receive word of whether their children were safe.

Rowe said school officials told the parents to act as if they were panic stricken.

"I would be panicked, too," Rowe told a reporter. At the same time, he hopes that parents would be realistic concerning officials efforts to evacuate their children and cooperate with district officials.

Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety is part of the plan to provide emergency management and coordinate the various emergency radio channels between emergency medical services and police.

Rowe forwarded information to the media as he was updated from Meighan.

Here is how the scenario played out:

A high school student's father, known to be involved in a custody dispute in which he was forbidden to have contact with the child, entered the building asking to see to his child.

When the agitated man was denied access, he left the building and returned to his truck where he grabbed a gun.

"He then returned to the office and opened fire at the teacher in the office," Meighan said. The script called for the gunman to continue to move through the building, shooting randomly at students and teachers.

Following the initial shooting, an ambulance was placed in a secured location and gained access to the injured. Police officers swarmed the building, securing all entrances.

Rowe said the intermediate school, on the same campus, was placed on lock-down.

Meighan said the mock drill scenario called for five students, two teachers and a police officer to be shot by the gunman. The invading father was shot by police after the gunman killed a student.

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