CATAWISSA R.R. - Faculty and staff at Southern Columbia Area School District became emotional when officers from Catawissa Borough, Locust Township, Montour Township and Ralpho Township police departments swept the buildings and shot blanks as part of an active shooter demonstration and training session Thursday morning.

The session, which was the first of its kind held at Southern Columbia Area School District, allowed the administration to learn how to improve its lockdown procedure while school employees and police officers practiced securing the buildings.

As part of the training, officers fired blanks in various locations of the Southern Columbia Area Junior Senior High School so employees could learn to recognize and react to the sound of gunfire.

The day began with Locust Township Police Chief Allen Breach presenting information on active shooting procedures in the high school auditorium.

After breaking into groups and listening from various parts of the building while officers fired blanks, the faulty and staff participated in the demonstration.

Taken hostage

Jerry Michel, who was at the demonstration as a representative from the Officer Store in Coatesville and who previously served in the military, acted as an intruder. He pulled out a gun in a classroom in the high school, taking a teacher hostage and forcing her to lead him to his "daughter," whom he said was in gym class.

Police officers responded, quickly sweeping the building and "shooting" Michel in the hallway in front of the gym.

The teacher who had been taken hostage was visibly upset. She tried to return to the classroom where her coworkers were in lockdown, but they refused to open the door.

Breach commended the teachers for following protocol by awaiting official word from police to leave their hiding places.

Follow procedure

In the presentation prior to the drill, Breach emphasized the importance of following lockdown procedure. He presented information from the FBI that said the duration of the average shooting is 12 minutes; 37 percent last less than five minutes.

Because it might take longer than 15 minutes for local law enforcement to be alerted, travel to the school and find the perpetrator, faculty and staff need to be prepared to protect students, said Breach.

The district conducted lockdown drills before, but Southern Columbia Area School District Superintendent Paul Caputo said asking local law enforcement to provide additional training is helpful to his staff.

"It's important to renew school safety policies," said Caputo. "Schools often practice fire drills. It makes sense to introduce this to the schools."

Caputo said Thursday was scheduled as a teacher in-service day. He permitted teachers to opt-out if they felt uncomfortable, but none did.

Some staff members said they were concerned about being alone during the drill, so Caputo gathered them into small groups.

Even so, many were shaken.

"When you heard those first gun shots, even though you know it's a drill, it gets your heart racing," said Angela Farranato, the Southern Columbia Area Middle School principal.

An additional lockdown drill was held at the elementary school, where Michel burst into the presentation to fire blanks and startling faculty members. A discussion on procedures that allowed police responders to best capture the intruder was held afterward.

Breach said he plans to hold additional training sessions for local law enforcement, possibly in August.