NORTH ATTLEBORO - While town officials certainly hope they will never need to respond to a horrific tragedy such as a school shooting, that doesn't mean they aren't preparing for a worst-case scenario.
North Attleboro police, fire and school departments gathered Tuesday to go over how the town would respond to a catastrophic event - an active shooter at the high school.
The tabletop exercise run by The Winmill Group brought local officials together with officials from the FBI, state police and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, among others, for a four-hour discussion that ranged from the initial response to communication needs in the days following such an incident.
"We used this incident to go through the processes and procedures we set up as security protocols, working in conjunction with the police and fire departments," Superintendent Suzan Cullen said. "It was interesting to see the bigger and wider mushroom cloud of resources that would be reacting to this incident."
Fire Chief Ted Joubert said one of the key things he took away from the exercise was the need to coordinate communication between responding agencies and with the public.
Police Chief John Reilly said the exercise shows that officials are not just showing up to the office and reacting to incidents, but taking a proactive approach to planning for them.
The Winmill group will prepare a report on the tabletop exercise, which will be used to further refine the town's security procedures and prioritize security enhancements.
"It was an evaluation of where we are. Once the final report is put together, it will give us a plan for how we can move forward together," Town Administrator Mark Fisher said.
The exercise was part for a year-long effort by town officials to ramp up long-standing efforts to enhance security, which was prompted by the December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Consultant Ryan Winmill said the commitment shown by North Attleboro officials to addressing security issues is unprecedented in the state, outside of Boston.
The tabletop exercise was the final piece of an almost $170,000 security analysis of the town's 23 buildings recently completed by The Winmill Group.
The final report recommended 44 security improvements, and Fisher has included $1.25 million for security enhancements in the town's five-year capital plan.
The town is already working to pursue some of the security enhancements recommended by the analysis.
For example, the town recently decided to purchase 15 automatic defibrillators for municipal buildings. Half of the $15,000 cost was paid for through a grant program, while the remainder came from the Walter F. Lyons Trust Fund, which is under the control of selectmen.
AMY DeMELIA can be reached at 508-236-0334, at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SCNAttleboro.
By MIKE HENDRICKS
The Kansas City Star
This summer’s All-Star Game is Kansas City’s chance to shine, local boosters say, but what if terrorists saw it as their opportunity to expose America’s vulnerability by making a strike in the nation’s heartland?
Or what if a tornado tore through town just as play began at a sold-out Kauffman Stadium on the evening of July 10?
Those are some of the possible scenarios that might be played out today in what city officials are describing as a “full-scale emergency exercise” at Kauffman. Some 250 to 300 invited participants are expected, including police, fire and other emergency responders, as well as the Red Cross and utility companies.
But only a few of them will know what scenarios they’ll be responding to when the drill begins today at 9. And even then, they can expect to be confronted with unexpected twists that evaluators will use to measure readiness, said Kansas City emergency manager Gene Shepherd.
“We want to test our plans, policies and procedures,” said Shepherd, who thinks this is one of the larger emergency exercises the city has seen.
Coordinated by the Office of Emergency Management and the Mid-American Regional Council, with the help of a Washington, D.C.-based consultant, the Winmill Group, the five-hour drill has been in the works for more than a year.
A table-top exercise last fall helped identify areas that needed improvement, such as communications, said city spokesman Dennis Gagnon. But even earlier, Shepherd and other city staffers were in Phoenix for last year’s All-Star Game, observing that city’s preparations.
Among the actual challenges Phoenix faced during All-Star events were a brownout during the game and a water main break downtown. The aim of today’s exercise is for Kansas City to be prepared for circumstances far more dire. A dirty bomb attack, a chemical spill or natural disaster? The city must be ready for anything, and that means involving a wide and diverse group of players, Gagnon says.
Those invited include the FBI, Secret Service, Kansas City Power and Light, the water department, Department of Homeland Security and the Missouri Department of Transportation. Several dozen folks will be at the city’s emergency center and the rest at the stadium.
The Royals will also participate, as will officials at the city’s convention facilities, where Major League Baseball will hold its Fan Fest in the days leading up to the game. But the drill won’t involve any activity outside Bartle Hall and Municipal Auditorium, Gagnon said.
Ryan Winmill, founder at Winmill Group, discusses the emergency response to Monday's bombing attack at the Boston Marathon and his advice to organizers of this weekend's London marathon. He speaks on Bloomberg Television's "Bloomberg Surveillance." Note: Footage may contain graphic content.
Click Link To See Broadcast: http://bloom.bg/118GWzG
Don't freak out, but there will be a "mass casualty event" this Friday with more than a dozen dead and 20 injured.
This is not a threat or April Fools' joke. It's an "active shooter" exercise that more than 100 school and public safety officials will face in the athletic center at Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay.
"This is a tabletop exercise, discussion-based. We don't put any real assets in place. We're not deploying the SWAT team," explained Ryan Winmill, who runs The Winmill Group, a security firm.
Winmill, who works in Washington, D.C., but is a part-time Cotuit resident, has lots of experience as a security consultant, usually involving high-profile clients. His firm created security exercises for the presidential inauguration, the Democratic National Convention in Boston, the G-8 Summit and, most recently, the 2012 Major League Baseball All-Star game.
Besides his security experience, Winmill has lots of connections and a desire to "give back." That's why he is facilitating the exercise pro bono. Among those who will be at the table are Rep. William Keating, D-Mass.; Carlo Boccia, an Eastham resident and the former homeland security director for Boston; Barnstable Police Chief Paul MacDonald; and Barnstable schools Superintendent Mary Czajkowski. Barnstable officials are prime participants because Barnstable High School will be "under attack" in the exercise.
There will be 13 local, state and federal agencies in the house, including representatives from the Massachusetts State Police, the FBI, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the office of the Cape and Islands District Attorney's Office and the Hyannis Fire Department.
"We'll have the room laid out, working off multiple screens with maps and a timeline, as if it is happening in real time," Winmill told me.
The exercise will be broken up into three phases. First, a "pre-incident event" will use realistic details about hypothetical "suspicious activity." After that, they'll confront the incident itself: a hypothetical gunman entering Barnstable High School. Last is recovery and aftermath.
"This issue is a lot more complex than just sending in the SWAT team," Winmill said. "It involves public information, the media, concerned parents flocking to the scene, PTSD for first responders, faculty and students. And then, there's the investigation itself. Who's in charge?"
This is a first-of-its-kind collaboration that involves "throwing everything at them so they can have a dialogue and more importantly understand the roles of different agencies and peers," Winmill said.
Barnstable High School is at the center of the exercise not because it has a violence problem but because, from a security perspective, it's the biggest, most challenging high school, both Winmill and Czajkowksi said.
I happen to have been reading Annette Fuentes' "Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse." It provides a wealth of historical context on "school violence" and details what has happened in schools across the country in the decades since "zero tolerance" and other obsessively punitive policies were first championed by alarmist sociologists in the 1980s, predicting a generation of "super predators" who never emerged.
I know we live in a post-Newtown world where "mass casualty events" can and do happen. But, I also know some of the half-baked ideas we've heard in the wake of Sandy Hook — arming teachers and turning schools into militarized zones — will only undermine the kind of learning environment kids need.
"What it really comes down to is striking a balance between really providing the most safety and maintaining an environment for learning," Winmill said.
For Czajkowski, this is new territory, but an experience she didn't want to miss. "If you don't have a safe place to learn and teach, then what's the point? This is preventive and proactive. ... In this day and age, you can't be blind to these issues and say it won't happen," she said.
And Keating told me that as a former prosecutor, he's been involved with these types of exercises before, so he appreciates their importance. But, he said, it's also important to talk about ways to improve safety without detracting from the primary purpose of schools.
"You want an environment free for education, not making it seem like you are going into a fortress to learn," he said. "When I was younger, they were talking about bomb shelters. I honestly lost sleep over that for a period in my life. Hopefully, that (fear) will be included in the conversation."
We should be glad they're exercising like this. But we should also hope they don't forget that turning schools into armed camps isn't smart either.