Amy Coppersmith wasn't nervous when she pulled into Central York Middle School to pick up her daughter, Ciara, during an active intruder drill Friday.
But her anxiety increased a notch when Ciara didn't show up on the buses of students from the high school. And yet another notch when Coppersmith realized her daughter had been marked absent, and couldn't be immediately located by school officials.
"I know she's safe, but where is she?" Coppersmith remembered thinking.
It was one of the communication snags that happened during Friday's drill that, overall, was "outstanding," according to Springettsbury Police Chief Tom Hyers.
The drill was an exercise in coordination between the school district and first responders, spearheaded by Hyers. The effort included about 200 law-enforcement officers and volunteers, plus 35 to 40 firefighters and ambulance crew members.
In the practiced scenario, two gunmen entered the building around 8:30 a.m. A male shooter was identified first with a handgun, and a female shooter was reported minutes later. One of the gunmen "died" during the course of the drill, and the other surrendered to police.
In a briefing prior to the drill, Hyers said the goal was not simply to "neutralize" the threat: He said 48 percent of threats neutralize themselves before law-enforcement can arrive on the scene.
Instead, it was about practicing coordination between local, state and federal agencies.
Hyers said after the drill that it was not flawless, but did show which points of communication need to be worked on in the future.
Hyers said much of the drill organization happened offsite at York County control, just as it would in a typical situation.
Hyers said handling the amount of communication through a few people at the control center - especially when integrating state and federal agencies like the FBI - showed where all responders need to improve.
Hyers said the communication was vital, and said the control center had improved its operations significantly during the six months of planning for the drill.
Coppersmith said her daughter was one of three students not at the reunification spot at the middle school during the drill. Her daughter was located quickly at the high school, where she had been safely in lockdown.
Julie Romig, spokesperson for the district, said this is the first time a school in York County has attempted the reunification portion of the drill.
"A lot of things look good on paper," Romig said. But Romig said putting the whole process in play allowed school officials to think through logistics thoroughly.
Romig said the district was able to see the number of law-enforcement necessary to even complete the reunification aspect: Fire police directed traffic around the school, and several layers of officers were needed to ensure the students could safely meet with their parents.
Romig said about 40 parents volunteered to take part in the reunification section of the drill.
Debbie Rutter, who picked up her son Adam from the middle school, said she was impressed with the levels of security surrounding the middle school.
Rutter was informed by an automated phone call that she needed to pick her son up at the middle school. As per protocol, she filled out a form with her son's name and her name. She was also required to show photo identification. The form had two tickets attached at the bottom: Rutter kept one, and the other went inside to school officials waiting with the students.
Rutter then drove to the back of the school, where she met Adam after school officials matched her ticket with his.
"I'm just amazed at the number of people dedicating their time today to prepare the community for a tragic event," Rutter said.
Rutter and Coppersmith said it is unfortunate that such drills are necessary now. But both parents were glad the school had a chance to prepare for the worst.
Romig said the drill went smoothly overall, barring a few glitches in communication among the responders. But she said it was a learning experience the district will use to improve crisis response plans district-wide.
"It's better to do it now in a drill than in real life," Romig said.
Chief Hyers said his long-term goal is to continue similar drills in different situations and locations around the county.
"We have a duty and a responsibility to prepare," Hyers said.
-Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wearing White and Green
Central York High School students evacuated the high school building Friday with their hands up, fingers spread wide.
The display, which one staff member described as eerily similar to Columbine, marked the significance of the active intruder drill at the high school grounds.
Julie Romig, spokesperson for the district, said the students' cooperation was necessary to effectively carry out all parts of the drill.
"I was extremely proud of our students for their conduct," Romig said. "They took it really seriously."
Among the serious undertones of the day was a student-led effort to honor the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman entered the school and killed 20 children and six educators Dec. 14.
Greg Wimmer, a teacher at Central York High School, suggested his class wear green and white for the drill Friday, the school colors of Sandy Hook.
Wimmer's AP U.S. History class made it a goal to spread the word. Kyla Caruso and Breanna Couch, two of his students, started tweeting about the cause Monday. Caruso said by Wednesday, the school district had put it on its Facebook page.
Couch said she was able to see most of the student body from the upper deck of the gym when she was evacuated there during the drill, and could see that many of her classmates and teachers were in some form of green or white clothing.
"It was really moving," Couch said.
Couch said the drill was a good opportunity to see and experience what would happen, without actually having to go through the trauma.
Caruso agreed, and said wearing the green and white was a way to show support for Sandy Hook during Central's opportunity to prepare.
"The people at Sandy Hook never had that opportunity," Caruso said.
-Reach Nikelle Snader at email@example.com.