Violence Drill Uncovers Weak Spots in Red River School Security

Aug. 19, 2005
More cameras, radios for communication recommended after school-violence drill

Installing more security cameras and buying two-way radios to be used during emergencies were two of the ideas that came out of a school-violence drill Thursday at Red River High School, a part of the Grand Forks, N.D., public school district.

Dozens of first responder personnel, from police officers to the bomb squad and ambulance workers, converged on Red River High School as part of the exercise. The event tested school and community policies and procedures for responding to an intentional act of violence at one of the schools or other school facilities.

In the exercise, two armed intruders entered the school, which went into a lockdown once the intruders were discovered. Law enforcement and other agencies were summoned, and officers came in and "apprehended the bad guys," said Jody Thompson, assistant superintendent for elementary education for the Grand Forks Public Schools.

A handful of adults and teens played parents and students, some who portrayed injured victims and fatalities. School officials (including principals from other schools) watched from an observation area.

"It was quite unnerving," Thompson said.

The exercise, from 10:30 a.m. to noon, was followed by a debriefing at which law enforcement, medical personnel, school officials and others discussed how the exercise went and what it revealed about security at the schools.

"I think there's always the opportunity for improving communications, especially when you're talking about agencies that in the past haven't worked together," Thompson said. "So communication was definitely something we thought about that we needed to improve."

Some other areas that were discussed:

Bringing leaders of the various agencies involved in Thursday's drill to meet with school building principals.

Increasing the means of communicating within school buildings, possibly by purchasing two-way radios.

Adding and upgrading security cameras.

"It became apparent that we weren't able to monitor all of Red River High School during the exercise," Thompson said. "That would have helped law enforcement secure the building that much quicker."

Although the drill focused on a terrorist situation, some aspects of the training could apply to other hazardous situations, including fires and weather emergencies, said Kevin Dean of the Grand Forks Public Information Center.

Among the agencies involved: Altru Ambulance Service, FBI, Grand Forks Police Department, Grand Forks County Sheriff's Office, Grand Forks Fire Department, North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, North Dakota Highway Patrol and UND.

The school district received a $7,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to pay for the drill.