Washington prepares for Code Red drill

Donelle Pardee Whiting

Next week, Washington will be the scene of a nightmare.

Although the nightmare will be staged, complete with “onlookers,” officials expect curious residents will show up to watch, adding to the realism.

Through the collaborative efforts of Washington Community High School, Washington Police Department, Washington Fire Department and Washington Emergency Medical Service, the high school will set the stage for a hostile takeover by two “armed gunmen” at 1:20 p.m. May 21.

WCHS dean of students Todd Hellrigel informed the board of education that plans for the drill are coming along.

Paramedic James Bender is coordinating the plan with the four city entities.

Hellrigel said the drill will resemble a situation where two gunmen take over the school.

The objective, he said, is to test the school’s lockdown and evacuation process.

“We are required to run regular fire and tornado drills,” Hellrigel said.

Last year, all of Washington schools had the opportunity to evaluate their Code Red procedures when a women calling 911 posed a threat to area students.

In that incident, the threat was external.

The May 21 drill will be the first time the high school and emergency personnel will test the system in a takeover situation.

According to the plan, a possible suicide letter by an unknown author “will be found” the night before and reported.

Starting at 1:20 p.m., two prepared phone calls will be made to 911. A phone call from a “scared parent” will then be made to dispatchers.

A controlled, staged fire will be lit near the back of the school as if an explosion occurred.

After that, the school will go into full Code Red lockdown, in which no unauthorized persons will be allowed in or out of the school.

Police and emergency personnel will respond as if the situation was a real event.

Twelve former students will portray shooting victims, and several Citizen Police Academy alumni will portray worried and angry parents.

Police officers will establish areas for the media, “parents” and evacuated students.

As part of the exercise, a pre-arranged mutual aid call will go out, Hellrigel said.

After securing a perimeter around the school, police will then enter the school and subdue the shooters.

Students will be evacuated as officers search the building.

To save time, Hellrigel said only the first floor of the school will be used for the drill.

Hellrigel said in addition to testing the school’s procedures, police and rescue personnel are also testing their systems.

“We would be better equipped to handle” a situation once the agencies know what areas need revised, he added.

Letters will be sent to the homes near the school and to parents, Hellrigel said, adding that the school’s Alert Now system will also be used to remind parents of the drill.

In addition, posters will be put on the school doors the morning of the drill.

About 23 emergency and police personnel are expected to participate.

The planning committee expects to have access to one fire truck, one rescue truck  and the WFD command vehicle.

In addition to two of Washington’s ambulances, there will be two others from neighboring communities, Bender said.

Bender added that because of Homeland Security rules, at least one ambulance must remain on call.

Deputy Police Chief Don Volk said the regular patrol officers will continue to patrol Washington’s streets that day, and the regular duty dispatcher will continue to handle actual emergency calls.

He said another dispatcher will be called in to run that part of the drill.

As part of the drill, the “gunmen” and responding officers will be using simunition, a type of paint fired from air propelled weapons.

Bender said he followed Homeland Security guidelines when developing the drill.

School board member Shelli McClellan said two of the three other Washington superintendents will be on hand to evaluate the drill.