DANVILLE — Close to 100 police officers and educators on Saturday are taking part in a training exercise aimed at improving safety throughout Danville's public schools.
The critical-incident training at South View Middle School, 133 E. Ninth St., will give police and teachers, administrators and other staff a chance to review their plans and test their skills in the event of a shooting or other dangerous situation on school grounds.
"God forbid that would happen here," Danville Public Safety Director Larry Thomason said.
"But, we have to be prepared for those types of incidents," he continued, adding preparation and practice for such an incident could mean the difference between life and death just as it could in a fire or tornado.
Thomason said police routinely conduct drills for all types of incidents, and this training has been in the works for a while. However, the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which left 20 students and six staff dead, and Thursday's shooting at Taft Union High School in California, which critically wounded a student, underscores the need.
Following the school shooting in Connecticut, a group of Danville schools administrators and police — including Commander Chris Yates, who heads the police department's Emergency Response Unit, and the district's three resource officers — met to review safety plans and protocols for buildings, Superintendent Mark Denman said.
"They feel our plans are well thought out and good," Denman said of police.
He added they suggested a few improvements, including improving intercom systems in gyms, which school officials will look at putting in place.
The training, which goes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., is part classroom presentation and part drill. More than 25 police officers and 60 to 70 school staff are expected to participate.
In the morning, South View's resource officer Chad Turner will train participants on how to identify threats and changes in a person's behavior or personality. He also will review what to do in the case of soft and hard lockdowns and how to account for students, keep them calm, assess injuries, etc.
In the afternoon, Yates will conduct the hands-on drills. Thomason said they will give police and school staff a chance to practice different scenarios in a realistic setting.
"We've actually done hard lockdown drills at South View this year," school administration manager John Lubinski said, adding staff are eager to see what could happen in a real-life incident. The police "will try to make it realistic. It will be very interesting."
Thomason said officials will critique the drill and determine whether any improvements are needed.