Old Bridge High School was turned into a police training ground yesterday as officers ran several drills to locate a gunman in the facility amid blaring fire alarms, smoke and flashing emergency lights.
Though the training was scheduled for this week, when school was out of session, a handful of Old Bridge students participated in the simulations to add realism to the training for the officers. As officer Pat Montagna led a team down a school hallway in search of an armed suspect, an arm suddenly poked around a corner, prompting the officers to shout until the person, who turned out to be a student from the drama club, dropped to the ground.
"We try to give them the stress they will encounter and make it as realistic as it can be. This is for the street officer," Chief Thomas Collow said. "Law enforcement learned from Columbine that we can no longer wait outside for a SWAT unit. We have to go inside."
Collow was referring to the April 1999 attack at Columbine High School in Colorado that left 13 students dead and 22 wounded after two heavily armed students entered the school in a carefully planned attack. The slayings prompted a nationwide review of school security and additional training for officers, like the drills held yesterday at Old Bridge.
The practice focused on four scenarios, including the rescue of a wounded officer and searches for a shooter on a second floor, in a cafeteria or on a stairway.
"You have to try to see that tip of the boot, tip of the hat, before you see the muzzle of the gun," Old Bridge training officer Bryan Doel said during a drill on a stairway.
This is the third year Old Bridge has used township schools for training. Half the department went through the program yesterday, with assistance from students acting as victims. The rest of the officers will go through the sessions Thursday. Members of the Middlesex County Special Operations Response Team are assisting in the drills. After a gunman killed six people, including himself, and wounded more in 2006 at a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pa., Gov. Jon Corzine established a school security task force with a series of recommended training sessions.
"Piece by piece, county by county, the people are coming together on this. We're seeing strong voluntary training on this, which parents are expecting from the schools and the police," said Scott Kisch, spokesman for the state Office of Homeland Security and director of the task force.