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Rockingham County prepares for a school intruder with drill

Union Leader Correspondent

February 26. 2013 8:54PM
Rockingham County Sheriffs Deputy Doug Lorenz, left, Lt. Shanon Goff and deputy Mike Chavez train for responding to a school shooting during school vacation week at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston. (JAMES KIMBALL PHOTO)

KINGSTON - While students were away enjoying a week of vacation, sheriff deputies and police officers filled the hallways of Sanborn Regional High School on Tuesday to hone their response to a school shooting.

The staged emergency had drills that were expected: Deputies and police officers paired off and drew their rifles to eye level while searching hallways and classrooms for an armed intruder. The first responders were critiqued on their movements, and exposed to the loud crack of simulated gunfire.

But the day-long training also marked a first for Rockingham County. It brought out school principals and administrators who shared information about their policies and protocols when an emergency occurs. The Rockingham County Sheriff's Department began planning the event in November, a month prior to the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 people dead.

"We know the potential is there," Rockingham County Sheriff Michael Downing said about a similar incident.

Sanborn Regional High School is a few doorsteps away from the Kingston Police Department and sits just five miles from the county courthouse, where deputies provide security and transport jail inmates. That makes both law enforcement agencies the most likely first responders to a situation where only one or two officers may be the first through the high school's door, Sheriff's Major Al Brackett said.

"We tried to get all the towns that would respond to an incident," Brackett said. "In all likelihood, we're going to be responding here as well."

Police from Kingston, Fremont, Newton, Brentwood, Hampstead, Raymond and East Kingston trained with the sheriff's department Tuesday.

For many deputies and officers, it was their first time inside the regional high school, which educates students from Kingston, Fremont and Newton. Knowing the building layout or which doors are likely to be locked by school officials prior to officers arriving can be key pieces of information for first responders, Brackett and school officials said.

Superintendent Brain Blake, who spent part of his morning following deputies as they searched classrooms and hallways, had his school principals, guidance director, business administrator and athletic director participate in the session.

"Certainly, collaboration is the key," Blake said. "All of these local agencies will leave here today with a layout of this building. And we get the benefit as administrators to know what to expect when they arrive."

Deputy Sgt. Darin Melanson led Tuesday's exercises. Brackett said Melanson has participated in similar training events in several states. A remote control robot obtained for free through military surplus for the sheriff's department was also used.

Deputies and officers used their everyday weapons for the training, but the firearms were refitted with Simunition barrels, which carry non-lethal ammunition. Steve Warnock, a firearms instructor for the sheriff's department and state police academy, was in charge of making sure all weapons were refitted with conversion kits. The kits are made to keep officers from mistakenly loading live rounds.

Warnock's task was to make sure all officers were using their guns with Simunition kits.

"Basically, my job here today is to make sure everyone is safe," he said.

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