York City School District employees at four schools had a surprise drill earlier this month involving "intruders" trying to get into the school.

District safety and security director Michael Muldrow said city security and city police coordinated a drill to help get school staff better equipped to handle an intruder.

"This was for the purpose of protecting students from the inside out," Muldrow said.

Although district staff have had similar drills the past two years, the school shooting at Sandy Hook re-emphasized the need to have staff be prepared to subdue an intruder, Muldrow said, as it can make a difference in reducing casualties and injuries while waiting for police to arrive.

At Sandy Hook Elementary's shooting, it took about 11 minutes for police to respond, 11 critical minutes for any school staff to help minimize damage, he said.

How it worked: York City staff were given a reminder memo in January of district protocol on intruders, Muldrow said.

Then city police and security staff picked four schools - Muldrow preferred not to name them as he is planning more drills - where a trained officer tried to get past staff and into the school, each having a slightly different plan.

Nobody other than top administrators were aware what was happening. Although some might criticize placing school staff under that kind of unexpected shock and stress, Muldrow said it's the only way to make the training effective.

If you know the intruder is coming, you'd react differently, he said.

"For anybody to know in advance, it would be fake," Muldrow said. "It would completely defeat the purpose."

Two of the schools were successful in preventing the intruder from entering the building. The other two were able to get the intruder into custody after entering the building.

Muldrow said he ran the drills so he could tell parents they are doing everything they can to train staff and keep students safe. It was the largest drill they had run in recent years after just having it at a single school before.

York County 911 was notified, he said, so they would know in advance in case anyone who saw something suspicious called 911.

No weapons: One officer playing a decoy had an unloaded gun, and the rest of the actors playing decoys did not have any weapons, Muldrow said. No loaded guns were involved. He added these drills are different than those run at other school districts in which it's more for police officers than school employees.

"This was not an active shooter drill for police, coming from the outside to identify a threat," said Muldrow, who has police training.

Muldrow said that some raised concern about an armed Schaad Detective Agency employee who works at one of the schools involved and was not informed of the drill in advance.

But Muldrow emphasized the intruder scenario was designed never to get near the point where a trained Schaad officer would feel the need to raise his weapon or fire.

"He has participated in these trainings, he knows how we work," Muldrow said of the Schaad officer, who works part-time at one of the schools.

School board president Margie Orr said she supports the drills and thinks they are needed, but said she is concerned they weren't held throughout the district.

"All our schools need this," Orr said.

Orr and Superintendent Deborah Wortham are scheduled to talk about the drills on Thursday, she said. Muldrow said he intends to do more drills at other schools.

- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com