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Active shooter drill in Medford tests agencies’ mental and physical training

 A group of police officers in SWAT tactical gear stand in a line, holding guns with blue tape on them.
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
A Medford Police Department SWAT team stands just outside Oakdale Middle School, carrying practice guns before making their way inside on June 22, 2023.

The Medford School District conducted an eerily lifelike active shooter training last week. It was meant to prepare for something they hope never happens.

Oakdale Middle School is in the midst of renovations this summer before opening to students in the fall. But on June 22, it was the site of a huge emergency drill, simulating an active shooter scenario.

Some of the 270 volunteers there pretended to be worried parents. Hearing the emergency alarms blare, and getting texts from their kids, parents tried to get in the school building by testing and banging on doors.

The exercise came together with the work of Ron Havniear, the district’s safety director. It was meant to test not just how police respond to an incident like this, but also fire departments, medical teams and hospitals. Over 30 agencies and 400 people took part in the simulation.

The frequency of school shootings has continued to rise in recent years. According to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security, there were 93 shootings during the 2020-2021 school year, a three-fold increase from 2015-2016.

Controlling gun violence has become an increasing priority among Americans nationwide, though divisions remain on the best solution.

None of the participants involved in the exercise knew what was planned. Over the radio, volunteers pretending to be teachers called in reports of shooters in the school’s media center. A loud siren announced that emergency services had been called, and that teachers should lockdown their classrooms.

After a few minutes, the police showed up with sirens blaring. Running down the street, they acted like the drill was a real shooting incident. One of the police officers led the parents away to keep them out of harm's way, while another group made their way into the gym.

 A woman with blonde hair, sunglasses and a red reflective vest looks towards the left and talks, pointing to her right at a large, color map of a school with multicolored post-it notes on it.
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
Volunteer Anne Havniear describes some of the planned scenarios playing out during the training exercise, some of which is layed out on the map.

Observers from police departments and school districts stood in the breezeway between the school and a district warehouse. Ron Havniear’s wife, Anne, described a scenario where a shooter was checking all the doors as they walked down a hallway.

“He finds a classroom that doesn't have their door locked,” she said. “He goes in there and enters. When he hears law enforcement approaching, that's when he kills himself.”

In less than 30 minutes, the MPD SWAT team arrived, breaching a door to make their way into the southeast corner of the school.

The tragic 2022 shooting in Uvalde, Texas sparked the idea for this training.

Medford School District Superintendent Bret Champion was at the Rogue Valley event. He grew up in a small town just outside Uvalde.

“I’ll tell you as I stand here today, I think right now it’s also a heartbreaking day for all of us who have students in public schools, that this is something that is necessary that we need to do,” Champion said.

In other shootings, the failure by police to respond quickly and courageously has broken the public’s trust, according to Havniear.

“Not here, these guys came running into that building,” he said. “They were in there so fast we had trouble keeping up with the incidents that we were trying to set up for them.”

"When you have an incident of this scale, you have students that are traumatized, they need to see mental health, trauma counselors."

Havniear said they’ve been planning this exercise since January, getting government agencies and other community groups involved.

On the other side of the building from the SWAT team, the road was full of ambulances and school buses. Medics layed out different colored tarps, setting up a temporary triage point to identify the patients most in need of care.

The medical teams dealt with simulations of small injuries like embedded shards of glass and being trampled by other students, as well as gunshot wounds. Patients were loaded onto ambulances bound for two local hospitals, which had their own trainings planned.

School buses and Rogue Valley Transportation District buses transported the volunteer students that didn’t need immediate attention.

The district has been working on improving security and emergency planning over the past year, and testing the effectiveness of their reunification plan was their goal, said Havniear.

“It’s not as easy as it sounds,” he said. “When you have an incident of this scale, you have students that are traumatized, they need to see mental health, trauma counselors.”

Havniear said making sure everyone is communicating is an immediate takeaway from the exercise. During the reunification, they ran into issues with coordination between volunteers managing the parents and students.

 Two paramedics roll a stretcher towards an ambulance. A man with a blanked an a neck brace lies on top.
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
Two paramedics carry a pretend patient to an ambulance outside Oakdale Middle School during the exercise.

“I think, big picture, communication is something that we could talk about all day long, but until we get out there and do it, it’s just challenging in nature,” Havniear said. “And I think the more we can practice that the better.”

Medford Police Chief Justin Ivens said on the police side, they had a problem with their radios.

“Not everything went perfect. And that is what is truly gonna happen in a real world incident,” he said.

The district and other agencies expect to have more detailed takeaways from the exercise later this summer. Havniear said they’ll make that available to other school districts to help them prepare. He also hopes to make this an annual event, hosted by other districts.

Those involved in this intense simulation hope they never have to do it in real life. But, by doing trainings like this, they’ll have a better idea of what to expect if it ever does happen.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.