Thrills and chills, but only a drill

At first it sounded like a cops and robbers game. Lots of people yelling “BANG-BANG-BANG!”

But the voices were not those of little kids on a playground. Participants were Bremerton High School drama-department seniors and adults.

The two-hour “surprise-intruder” drill had begun in the hallways of BHS, Friday, May 10 — high noon.

Earlier that morning at a staging area in a church near the school, Laura Jull of the county’s Department of Emergency Management (DEM) discussed the day’s schedule for the 100 people assembled. They included other organizers of the event, representatives from police and emergency agencies, members of the press and interested public.

“We’ll have two ‘shooters,’” she said. She gestured to a pair of casually dressed young men, Jared Sarkis and Dominick Delicino, both county Sheriff’s cadets. “All weapons in the exercise will be empty.”

She then addressed press and civilian observers:

“There are four observation points defined by yellow police tape,” said Jull.

“Step outside the line,” she added ominously, “and you’re ‘in the game.’”

Which means you could be considered an intruder or victim.

Washington State Patrolman Glen Tyrrell was a bit more graphic:

“Step outside the line, and you’ll be muzzled down by the tactical (S.W.A.T.) team.”

Memories of Columbine and Sept. 11, and the recent school tragedy in Germany, are prompting school officials to rehearse for the worst. To make it more of a real-life test, many emergency participants were not told the time of the drill, only that it would be Friday.

Specifically, participants included Bremerton Police and Fire departments, Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputies, the Washington State Patrol, CenCom, the school district and its teachers, and Harrison Hospital. All under the aegis of the DEM.

The exercise started when the “shots” rang out. The school went into lock-down and called 911. Students were evacuated. The 16 designated “injured” roamed the halls in a daze or lay still on the floor. One intruder was “wounded” by the on-site BPD school officer, Rodney Harker. Within minutes other Bremerton officers arrived. The second intruder barricaded himself in Computer Room 228, with “possibly seven hostages.” Fire and rescue massed outside.

All could be heard on scanners carried by police and press. CenCom periodically announced it was “Just a drill.” In the weeks prior to the drill, neighbors and parents were notified.

After about 15 minutes, the inter-agency S.W.A.T. team arrived — with shields and military-like weapons. Within the hour, the other intruder had been captured and the drill was over.

A representative from the Ribbon of Promise organization, a national grass-roots group fighting violence in schools, was present as an observer, as were representatives from the PTSA and and BKAT local access television.

Local and state elected officials were on hand, too. For instance, Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, was stationed at Observation Point 4 with a dozen or so others, including professional media and high school reporters.

In an interview prior to the drill, Brooke Jones of Ribbon of Promise said her group wants students to realize they can prevent violence perpetrated by other students.

“We call our program ‘By Kids for Kids,’” she said, “in which we teach kids to speak up if they think someone on campus is close to getting violent. Kids who speak up aren’t ‘rats’ or ‘snitches,’” she added. “They’re heroes.”

Ribbon of Promise was formed after the deadly school shooting in May of 1998 at Thurston High in Oregon.

Joan Dingfield, community services coordinator for CKSD, said the drill was the first of its kind in Kitsap County. It has been conducted in many high schools around the state and around the country.

She said the odds of an event of this type happening here are highly unlikely. But as in any type of emergency, it is better to be prepared.

For more information, call school administration at 478-5151, DEM at 337-7119, or Ribbon of Promise at (541) 726-0512.

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