April 11, 2008
Spillman Proves Essential in Mock School Shooting Exercise
Law enforcement rely on mobile software for communication
OXFORD COUNTY, MAINE—In the wake of school shootings around the country, the community of Oxford County, Maine, decided to take a proactive stand against violence.
Oxford County is located along Maine’s western border, a rustic area best known for its lakes, covered bridges, and ski resorts. Despite its rural setting, the region shares national concerns about violence in schools, said Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant.
“There’s a trend of school shootings nationwide, and some of them are happening in rural places,” Gallant said. “We came to the conclusion that no one is immune to an act like that.”
Sixteen county agencies worked with the crisis team at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School to plan a school shooting drill. Officials spent more than a year creating a realistic scenario that would test the abilities of everyone involved.
The drill was modeled after a “Columbine-style” event, said Chief Robert Federico of the Norway Police Department. A janitor with extensive knowledge of the building was assigned to be the mock shooter. Parents and the school’s 1,200 students were given advance warning, and teachers were told how to put their classrooms into lockdown mode.
Local fire departments and law enforcement agencies gathered at the scene, while nearby Stephens Memorial Hospital and the area’s ambulance services prepared to attend to volunteers assigned to act as shooting victims. Gallant said the event gave the agencies a chance to test their new school violence response plan.
“Columbine changed our whole approach,” he said. “The past trend was that you waited for a team (of specialists) to arrive. We learned that you can’t do that any longer; now, we automatically go in with a team of officers.”
As law enforcement personnel entered the building to apprehend the mock suspect, the unexpected happened. The police entry team realized that their radios could not transmit through the school’s walls, Federico said, leaving them unable to communicate with officers outside the building.
“It was such a large building that the radios just would not transmit,” Federico said. “Our only communication was a cell phone. Just one person could hear what was taking place.”
Fortunately, he said, the officers were able to circumvent the communication problem using mobile communications software from Spillman Technologies.
An officer inside the building used the cell phone to call the Oxford County Regional Communications Center. As the officer inside the school described the situation, the dispatcher entered the information into Spillman’s computer-aided dispatch software. Officers equipped with Spillman’s Voiceless Dispatch module were able to read details about the suspect’s whereabouts and victims’ conditions as they appeared on patrol vehicles’ laptop screens.
“We were able to keep everybody informed,” he said. “Everyone could see exactly what was going on.”
Gallant said his deputies used Spillman’s Mobile Messenger module to communicate instantaneously with others at the scene. The Instant Messaging feature enabled officials to relay messages over the Internet without tying up the limited radio frequencies in the area.
Spillman software also helped prepare law enforcement officials to enter the school. Using Spillman’s Premises and HazMat module, officials were able to access an electronic image of the school’s floor plan, as well as see where hazardous chemicals and other materials were stored. Without Spillman, Gallant said, floor plans would have had to be printed out or downloaded onto individual laptop computers.
“With Spillman, (the information) is right there, readily available and accessible immediately,” he said.
Federico also agreed that the ability to easily access information helped make the drill a success.
“It’s not like you’re relying on one person with a binder, and hoping that person is not on vacation in Florida or something,” he said. “We found out how versatile the entire (Spillman) system is.”
School administrators worked hard to maximize the drill’s benefit to its students, Oxford Hills Vice Principal Jan Gauger said. Letters were sent home to parents, informing them of the drill and asking them to ensure that their teens came to school that day. As a result, she said, attendance on the day of the drill was higher than on any other early-release day in the school’s history. Students spent their time in lock-down learning ways to prevent bullying, harassment, and violence in schools.
Preventing school violence has become a priority across the state, she said.
“There have been so many issues recently in Maine,” Gauger said. “There have been people with guns near school or on school grounds, and cases of kids bringing B-B guns to school.”
After the drill, students were able to ask law enforcement officers questions and express their concerns.
“The kids were very positive,” she said. “They said things like, ‘I’m really glad the school cares enough about us to do this kind of thing,’” Gauger said.
Federico said the technology that allowed them to successfully complete the drill is relatively new to the area. The Oxford County Sheriff’s Office has been using Spillman for more than 20 years, he said, but other agencies in the area have only been using the system for the last two or three years.
“For tiny little towns like us to be able to take advantage of that technology is phenomenal,” he said.