Last week, I was invited to attend the annual Greene County School Safety Drill by White River Valley Superintendent Dr. Bob Hacker. Hacker thought the topic would be a timely one to cover for the newspaper, with the advent of the coming school year right around the corner.
At first, I thought it would be an interesting event to watch unfold, and thought I might be able to get a cool photo or two and that would be the extent of my involvement.
Dr. Hacker and the law enforcement officials at the event had other plans for me, however.
In any situation involving the safety of children at a local school, news professionals are going to be on high alert and will certainly send reporters to the location to cover the event.
Hacker and the others realized that I could play a part in their training, as dealing with the media would be one aspect of such an event. An annoying aspect, I suppose, but also an important one, since reporters would be eager for information to relay to the public.
As I entered the high school near the administration entrance, I met up with School SRO Josh Goodman, who informed me of the changes that had been made to my plans.
As a member of the media, I know all too well how to be persistently annoying to get answers and information for a story.
So, for training purposes, I was tasked to play an exaggerated version of myself, pestering medical staff and school officials and law enforcement at every turn with questions reporters would ask in the event of an unfolding situation.
EMS staff respond to a real situation to address injuries and to save lives. Law enforcement officials rush to a real situation for similar reasons, to take control of an uncontrolled situation, save lives and apprehend, if possible, the perpetrator(s).
School officials have no choice but to be in the middle of a situation happening in their midst, and they have one priority in that situation: the safety of their students.
It was more than enlightening to learn how well-meaning journalists, who would show up in order to deliver information about the situation to a public frantic for information could present all of those on hand with yet another interruption, taking the valuable time of trained medical and law enforcement personnel there to serve and protect and it was impressive to see how these people were prepared to balance the needs of the media to disseminate information with the needs of everyone else to contain the situation in the best way possible.
Waiting for the event to begin, I escaped to the cool interior of my car, feeling slightly guilty as I watched law enforcement officials from all over Greene County wait as well, the difference being the uniforms and Kevlar undergarments worn by most of them as opposed to the breezy dress and refrigerated air I was wearing.
To assuage my guilt, I went through my notebook, discarding used pages for recycling and looking for extra pens in order to spend as much time as possible in my comfy car. I felt much better after that.
I saw one EMT jokingly wipe the sweat from his brow with the shirttail of another and my guilt limit was reached.
I grabbed my “props,” notepad, camera and pen, and joined the EMT group as they waited in the shade of a much-appreciated leafy tree. I went over with them the role I would be playing and told them I wouldn’t be offended by the way they would be required to treat me, pre-forgiving them for any brusqueness on their part as we role-played. I listened as they went over their roles and was impressed by how everyone knew what they needed to do and where they needed to be. These professionals really made me feel like our safety is in exceptionally capable hands.
I pre-forgive EMTs just about any transgression of politeness anyway, in general, them being the link between life and death on basically a daily basis for people all over the county. They earned my respect just by existing and doing the job they do for us so I was more than happy to take whatever they could dish out.
And then it started. It felt so real when we all heard the frantic voice of a dispatcher coming over the walkies.
“We have shots fired at WRV High School, repeat, shots have been fired at WRV High School...”
In a fraction of a second, the EMTs went into action and the police took their places just as quickly, like a well-oiled machine of protection.
I felt humbled and all sorts of other emotions, including fear, panic, admiration and respect.
And then I remembered this was a training drill and I had a part to play. Shaking myself from my panic reaction to the message on the walkie, I gathered up my notebook and pen, camera slung around my neck, and unleashed my most persistent-and-annoying-reporter persona on the whole crew, getting all up in everyone’s business.
“Excuse me, can you tell me what’s happening here? Has there been a shooting? Is anyone injured?” I asked in a near-shout, like a pesky reporter would.
And they wouldn’t give me the time of day.
Brisk and efficient, each EMT knew his or her role and went about doing what they do best. They were all extremely polite but firm in telling me, essentially, to buzz off and directed me to speak with a law enforcement official.
Undaunted, I sought out anyone in uniform who would pause long enough to answer my questions. That was a dumb idea because if you have ever tried to get an answer from a cop while he or she is focused on securing a situation, you already know they had way more important things to deal with than a pesky mosquito of a reporter like me.
Again, every law enforcement official I attempted to speak with was polite but firm, telling me to get gone but in the nicest of ways. I think they must have gotten together and practiced different ways to reject me because they were all so smooth and efficient at making me scram.
I tried another tactic. (I am a reporter, that’s what I do.)
I set my sights on a group of school officials in a huddle with a trainer and made a beeline for Superintendent Hacker and Principal Doug Lewis. I interact with these gentlemen often, covering school board meetings and various events and happenings at the school.
The men I saw that day, however, were like souped-up versions of the ones I normally deal with.
Focused and intent, Hacker barely gave me a glance. He was busy and I could see my questions would be very, very low on his priority list, if they would register at all, were this a real-life situation. Exactly what you’d want in a superintendent, in my opinion.
Principal Lewis was not quite so lucky. He drew the short straw and had to deal with me. Polite but firm, he led me away from the group, far enough to make sure I was out of earshot and could not hear information from the huddle.
“As soon as everything here is secured, we will have a statement for the press,” Lewis said. He explained that, were this a real situation, the school would use the media as a resource, sending reporters to a neutral location, such as the Greene County Community Event Center at the 4-H Fairgrounds, to wait for a briefing from school officials and law enforcement.
This impressed me, it was efficient, safety-conscious and beneficial to the interests of everyone involved.
I headed once again to the comfort of my car but, being the stinker that I am, I decided to keep acting, and ducked around a police vehicle to continue to try to annoy the heck out of people.
But Doug Lewis is a much smarter educator than I am a trickster. He was keeping an eye on me and predicted my semi-sneaky move.
“I’m following you,” Lewis said, “Do you need me to repeat the location you’re to wait at?”
Dang, I thought, this is just like being back in high school.......
I took my leave soon after, feeling very impressed and confident our school, law enforcement and first responders stay very prepared to handle a situation like the one they rehearsed that day.
I sincerely hope none of them ever has to face it for real, but if they do I have the utmost confidence they will handle it to the very best of their ability.
Never have so many been so mean to me, for the best reasons of all, our kids. Thanks, guys.
Patti is a Staff Writer for the Greene County Daily World. She loves to laugh and also loves kitties. She’s kind of weird but has a heart of gold. If you would like to share a story or just make a friend, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.