By Danielle Sanzone
The Troy Record
EAST GREENBUSH, N.Y. — The Columbia High School campus was eerily quiet on Wednesday. The halls were void of students rushing to classes or hanging out by their lockers. No one was at the front desk and there was not a soul on the main entrance’s concrete stairs. The school seemed deserted … until a muffled shot echoed in a nearby stairwell and a squad of police officers could be seen making their way swiftly down a hallway in the southern end of the high school.
Six police agencies conducted their annual drills involving a mock shooter during the East Greenbush Central School District’s winter break. These authorities have been doing this training since 1998, said Sgt. Mike Smith of the East Greenbush Police Department. Other law enforcement entities included in the simulation were the police from North Greenbush, Schodack, the town of Nassau, Rensselaer, and the State Police.
“We want to be prepared to stop something as quickly as possible,” said Smith. He said the group treats the situation like it was real life so the police teams know very little about the mock shooter.
One main difference with real life and the simulations is that they use air soft guns that fire something similar to a bb. If hit, the affected area gets a sharp sting similar to a bee sting, said Smith.
“It’s going very well,” he said of the drills.
On Wednesday, rooms and hallways were marked off by the police with caution tape.
The emergency crews traveled in small teams and communicated by radio, also carrying their air soft guns and wearing protective gear. Though they came across obstacles like a fake pipe bomb, their main objective for the day was making contact with the simulated shooter or shooters. In one of the drills, the shooter committed suicide which is a likely occurrence in such a situation, officials said.
After this simulation, the teams went over what they did well and what they could have handled better. In this instance, they were told to communicate more on their radios but they had done a good job of informing each other when the described “good guys” were around so they did not accidentally shoot one of their own.
Soon after one of the simulation teams finished a drill, an officer pointed out where shots were fired in the South Tower of the school back in Feb. 2004 that left a teacher injured and the 16-year-old shooter, student Jon Romano, was sentenced to more than a decade behind bars. Bullets from the pump-action shot gun had to be taken out of a pillar that the squad walked past. This was also where students had to dodge those same bullets.
In that incident, the school was on lockdown for about 90 minutes.
Reprinted with permission from The Troy Record