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Edgartown school

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Island-wide cooperation was easy, but communication proved difficult in the largest ever active emergency drill.

Edgartown Police Officer William Bishop and Aquinnah Police Officer David Murphy move into position at the Tactical Response Drill. — Nathaniel Horwitz

“There’s a shooter at the Edgartown school,” Edgartown police officer David Rossi shouted. “There’s gunshots! You gotta get somebody to the Edgartown school quick!”

Members of the tactical response team conducted a sweep of the building. From left: Sergeant Jonathan Klaren (Chilmark); Officer Seth Harlow (Oak Bluffs); Sergeant Steve Conley (Oak Bluffs);  Officer James Craig, executive officer (Edgartown).
Members of the tactical response team conducted a sweep of the building. From left: Sergeant Jonathan Klaren (Chilmark); Officer Seth Harlow (Oak Bluffs); Sergeant Steve Conley (Oak Bluffs); Officer James Craig, executive officer (Edgartown).

Officer Rossi stood outside the back entrance of the school cafeteria. His urgent 911 call was the trigger for an Island-wide response to an armed intruder as part of a Saturday morning drill involving every Island police and emergency services department.

The call was made at 9:02 AM. By 9:05 AM, Edgartown police officers wielding unloaded AR-15 assault rifles were leaping from their cruisers at the school grounds. Soon after, officers from other Island towns arrived. Off duty police officers also responded from their homes.

Police established a perimeter. Ambulances from several towns arrived, and a triage area was set up in the school gym. At the same time, members of the Martha’s Vineyard tactical response team swept the building.

Since September, Island fire, emergency medical services (EMS) and police from all towns, along with Edgartown school administrators, have met monthly to plan for an “active emergency.” The updated protocol followed a series of school shootings nationwide over the past few years. A state police helicopter that was planned to appear was unable to participate due to fog concerns.

Only Edgartown police officer Ryan Ruley and deputy fire chief and ambulance coordinator Alex Schaeffer knew what would happen before the drill, a strategy emergency services uses to simulate a realistic situation.

Edgartown Police Chief Tony Bettencourt and Edgartown police officer Dayce Moore (right) participated in the drill.
Edgartown Police Chief Tony Bettencourt and Edgartown police officer Dayce Moore (right) participated in the drill.

“Everything was based off what the officers found,” Mr. Schaeffer told the Times following the drill. “The plan that we’ve been working on went well — that framework; there’s parts you can fix, to make it perfect, but it was good. Communication continues to be an issue on the Island, and drills like this show that necessity.”

To add an element of surprise, Mr. Schaeffer and Mr. Ruley added a second shooter to the drill scenario. Although the responding officers were aware of one shooter, they did not know about the second shooter, who withheld fire until the first police arrived.

Edgartown police officer and firearms expert Joel DeRoche, who serves as the school resource officer two days each week, played the role of the second shooter.

“In my 18 years, I’ve never attended any training that’s come this close to reality,” Mr. DeRoche told The Times at the conclusion of the drill. “The school resource officer was in the cafeteria, because it’s a heavily populated area and a target. I was threat number two, on the second floor, and became active once the first shooter was taken care of. At first, as the school resource officer, you’re it. The cavalry took three minutes. That’s a long three minutes. That’s three hours.”

A wounded man is carried out on a stretcher.
A wounded man is carried out on a stretcher.

He said the main problem highlighted by the drill were radio issues. “Communication, communication, communication; that was very difficult for a variety of reasons,” he said. “Nothing we can’t figure out though, sooner rather than later.”

“Today was a baseline, now we’ll see how to tweak it. It’s a fluid plan, there’s nothing we won’t consider,” he said. “This wasn’t a bunch of cops playing war games, it’s so important for us to be prepared.”

He thanked Edgartown school principal John Stevens. “Without his gracious hospitality we couldn’t have done this,” officer DeRoche said. “We appreciate his proactive approach to school security.”

Edgartown assistant principal Anne Fligor, who was part of the monthly planning meetings, was working in her office when the drill began. She announced the lockdown over the school intercom, which on a regular school day would notify teachers to lock classroom doors and gather students in a corner of the room until police cleared the building. On this day, only a few faculty members and cafeteria staff were in the building, as well as several volunteer victims and two EMS dummies.

“I was doing actual work, a spreadsheet for how much time is allotted to each subject,” Ms. Fligor said. “I’m incredibly glad we did the drill, just to see what works and what we need to work on. It’ll be interesting to hear from everyone how it went, and if we need to alter the emergency plan.”

Edgartown school principal John Stevens noted the cooperation of parents. “The teachers and community were well informed and there was no pushback,” he said. “There was a lot of support, actually. It’s good to see that people put a value on school security.”

A major factor was cooperation between different departments and different plans. “Island-wide cooperation is what it’s all about,” said school superintendent Jim Weiss.

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State and Island public safety personnel will train Saturday morning for the worst case scenario.

State Police, Island police, fire, and emergency medical service personnel will converge Saturday on the grounds of the Edgartown School for a safety drill. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

State Police will join Island police, fire, and emergency medical service personnel Saturday, April 5, on the grounds of the Edgartown School where they will train for what was once the unthinkable, an armed intruder in the school.

Drill leaders want members of the public to be aware of the drill so they will not be alarmed by the presence of large numbers of police on the scene at the school.

“You drill for the worst-case scenario,” Edgartown deputy fire chief and ambulance coordinator Alex Schaeffer told The Times.

Mr. Schaeffer worked with the school and other emergency departments to develop the response plan. “We’ve never done a drill of this magnitude,” he said. “It’s the first time on the Island that police, fire and EMS from all towns have come together.”

It is all part of a response plan which has been in development since September, and follows a series of school shootings nationwide in recent years. No students will be involved in the drill.

Once it begins, police personnel and emergency vehicles, including a Massachusetts State Police helicopter, will converge on the scene. Access to surrounding streets will be temporarily limited.

The updated response plan is an Island-wide effort to protect students and faculty from an armed intruder. “The foundation that we’re putting forth here for our school could be put in place at any Island school, with a few changes due to geography,” Mr. Schaeffer said.

Response teams will not know what to expect, a strategy that the departments have used in the past to create realistic situations. “The whole scenario is like a movie, we’ve scripted it,” he said. “Not everyone knows what’s going to happen. We’ve given a time period, yes, but the scenario hasn’t been issued.”

The day is intended to be a learning experience — to discover what went right and what went wrong.

“We’re going to play it like any other day,” Edgartown police chief Tony Bettencourt said. “The officers will respond from home, which we’ve never done before. We’ll see how long it will take all the officers to prepare, get to the scene, how long it will take the other departments to get to the scene. Let’s try it, and critique our response.”

Drill leaders have been contacting neighbors of the school so that everyone is aware of the scope and magnitude of the training, Mr. Schaeffer said in a press release. “We hope, just like you, there is never an incident at the school requiring this response. However, the importance of all participating agencies knowledge and proficiency of this proactive plan cannot be understated. We appreciate your understanding of any inconvenience during the scheduled drill time. Thank you for your support.”

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Jackson Crocker won a new atlas for answering questions in the Edgartown School geography bee. — Photo by Michelle Gross

Do you know which southern U.S. state located in a region explored by France in the late 1600s was named after a French king? Or how about the name of the Asian country that is the Taklamakan desert home of the Uyghur people, located north of the Kunlun mountains?

These we’re just a couple of the questions the 10 semi-finalists had to answer as part of the Edgartown School geography bee held Thursday morning. The answers are Louisiana and China, by the way.

Eighth grader Jackson Crocker, 13, knew the answers and took home the gold medal, and a chance to win geography bee glory in Washington, D.C., in May.

Modest about his big win Thursday, Jackson said he was excited and a bit surprised at his success.

“I didn’t think I would win, I thought Spencer [runner up Spencer Pogue] would,” Jackson told The Times. Asked what he did to prepare for the bee, modesty again prevailed.

“I didn’t do much,” he said. “I just have a good memory.”

Jackson now has the opportunity to take a written test in order to qualify as one of the top 100 geography students in the state.

Each state winner is invited to Washington in May for the national finals, where he or she will compete for a $25,000 grand prize scholarship, awarded by the National Geographic Society.

As a prelude to the school event, students in grades four through eight took part in classroom geography bees to determine Thursday’s ten semifinalists. The school-wide competition held in the gymnasium, was attended by students, teachers and a few proud parents.

Nancy Cole, the school librarian, served as the bee’s moderator. Head custodian Mike Lynch and Edgartown School treasurer Pamela Cassidy served as judges.

Jackson received a medal and a certificate of championship. His name will be engraved on a plaque listing past winners that hangs in the school lobby.

He also received a large atlas, as did the other competitors,including fourth graders Ashley Brasefield and Bethany Cordoza; fifth graders Desiree London and Dylan Burke; sixth graders Spencer Pogue and Gregory Pyden; seventh graders Matheus Brito and Hollis Kelly; and eighth grader Audrey McCarron.

Jackson said he would put the atlas to good use and get busy preparing for the next level of competition.