VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - A third student died, Tuesday, as a result of the Feb. 27 school shooting in Chardon, Ohio. Two others remain hospitalized but are expected to be okay.
By all accounts, the school did everything right when the gunman opened fire. The students participated in so many drills, many thought the lockdown was, in fact, just another drill.
So, WAVY.com wanted to know how schools in Hampton Roads prepare for this type of worst case scenario. From the Southside to the Peninsula, school administrators told WAVY.com they practice lockdown emergency drills with the kids at least two times each school year.
"That's tough to ever fully prepare for that type of scenario, but we have training for staff and students," Richard Ponti, Director of Safety and Loss Control at Virginia Beach Schools, said.
Ponti explained there's at least one lockdown drill per semester.
"[Students] have been doing it now for several years, probably eight or nine, so they're pretty familiar with it. It goes like clockwork, you just hope you never have to use it for the real thing," Ponti added.
Ponti said each lockdown announcement is calm and simply says, "We're now in internal lockdown." Sometimes the kids know it's practice, other times, they don't.
"I think it's important to not say it's a drill, because kids have to understand that anytime you do it, you better do it for real," Ponti continued.
That means get into a locked room fast, get out of sight and get quiet.
Ponti said, "It's proven that hiding behind a locked door saves lives. The perpetrator usually wants to do as much as he can in a short period of time. So, they're not going to knock through a door. They're going to go to the first door that's open."
While all of that happens inside the school, outside there are first responders, like police officers.
"When a call like this comes out, you can bet the entire city is going to be heading in that direction," Lt. Christopher Cook, with the Newport News Police Department, said.
Cook organizes department training like one in 2009 where officers practiced a drill at Woodside High School with two gunmen inside.
"So, the plan is to go to the shooter. The immediate response is take care of the threat. Once the threat is taken out, go out check for secondaries, secondary meaning if there's anybody else associated with it," Cook said.
Lt. Cook says these drills happen department-wide up to five times a year. He also says the police learn from recent tragedies like Chardon, Ohio.
"We try to take the positives out of that and the negatives and try to tailor them to our needs."
Cook added the recent school shootings all seem to have one thing in common, "One of the things that I keep hearing on these school shootings is everyone says it sounds like popcorn or firecrackers going off. I think that these things have been happening long enough that, my first and my best advice is if it sounds like popcorn or firecrackers going off and everyone seems to be in a little bit of a panic, go the other way quickly and make sure somebody calls 911."
However, once you call 911, Ponti warns against continuing to make calls or texts during the emergency.
"The cell phones initially, you know, you don't want to use them because there are going to be so many calls flooded that we really need to have just emergency communications," Ponti said.
Instead, parents and kids should depend on the schools' parent alert system.
"With the Alert Now system, it's a parent notification system, we will be able to get a message to parents in a pretty quick turnaround. It would be better for a parent to receive that information because we can tell them where to come, where they can meet their child because it might be at a different location," Ponti explained.
Ponti also said good relationships between students, teachers and administrators is key to having a safe school.
"You'll get the information from students that someone is a danger to themselves or someone else and I think that's the biggest message to parents. Encourage your children, you know, I'd like to see them have at least one adult in the building that they could go to with a problem or a concern and if they're going to be successful in school, that's really important."
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