Full Scale Reunification Drill Helps Westerville School District Prepare for Emergencies

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Nearly two years of meticulous preparation paid off for Westerville City Schools when, on Friday morning, October 18, the district conducted a massive Reunification Drill, under the direction of Debbie Meissner, Director of Health and Safety Services.  Approximately 240 individuals played a role in the successful undertaking, which took place on Central OEA/NEA Day, a professional development day when students are not at school.  The district’s Safety Committee orchestrated the elaborate drill, which covered numerous components of the Emergency Operation Plan including active threat, lockdown, incident command, evacuation to an assembly area, transport to a reunification site, and reunification of students with parents.  Procedures were developed from the I Love U Guys Foundation - Standard Reunification Method (https://iloveuguys.org/response.html.)

The staged scenario started at Walnut Springs Middle School, where dozens of Westerville administrators and staff gathered to take on the roles of students and teachers attending classes on a normal day of learning.  Two custodians pretended to be active shooters, running through the hallways, firing blanks, and causing the building principal to announce over the loudspeaker that classrooms were to lock down.  After officers from the Westerville Division of Police apprehended the criminals, classrooms were cleared and students and staff were evacuated to a nearby church.  Parents were notified by text and phone, as students were transported via school busses to an offsite location.  District employees were set up there to process each pupil and release them to their parents and guardians, played by volunteers, administrators, and members of Westerville Parent Council.  School counselors were present to lend a hand to those in need, and the Westerville Division of Police assisted the Genoa Township Police in securing the reunification site.  The entire exercise, from start to finish, took less than three hours. 

Later that afternoon, an After-Action meeting was held to review operations and talk about next steps.  National safety expert Gary Sigrest provided feedback to school officials and police about their respective procedures. 

Reunification Site Commanders Jill Beck and Christi Nordman were pleased with the outcome, and impressed with those who participated.  They said valuable lessons were learned and that “Planning, communication and teamwork were essential to the successful outcome.  It was a privilege to be part of something so impactful.” 

One parent volunteer said she was treated with compassion and professionalism, and felt fortunate that her son “attends a district that is so well prepared.”

Meissner thanked the dedicated planners of the drill for their diligence and attention to detail, which made the operation run smoothly.  She also expressed her appreciation to Westerville City School District administrators, participating employees, Parent Council, community volunteers, first responders, and church partners. 

State law, through the Ohio Revised Code, requires school districts to conduct three types of tests over a three-year cycle.  Tabletop exercises, the most basic, happen in an informal setting and involve discussing various issues regarding hypothetical, simulated emergencies.  Their purpose is to enhance general awareness, validate plans and procedures, and rehearse potential situations.  The focus of Functional Exercises is to see how policies and procedures work in a realistic, but still simulated setting.  Full Scale Exercises (like Westerville’s Reunification Drill) are the most complex of the three.  They involve first responders, local officials, and community organizations.  Public school safety plans are not public records.