WVCSD holds security and active shooter training for district employees


WVCSD holds security and active shooter training for district employees

November 14, 2023

On Tuesday, November 7, Warwick Valley Central School District held the first in a series of emergency training and active shooter drills at Warwick Valley High School. The training took place during a Superintendent’s Conference Day scheduled to coincide with Election Day, which meant students were off from school. That made the day the ideal opportunity for the rest of the school community – administration, faculty and staff – to take part in the first of a multi-phase training series and learn the foundation upon which future training will build. 

The training exercise was a collaborative effort between law enforcement from the Town of Warwick Police Department, including our own School Resource Officers, along with the members of the Orange County Tactical Response Unit (TRU), which operates as a SWAT team.

“We are fortunate to have a close relationship with Chief (John) Rader and the Town of Warwick Police Department, and to have a team such as the TRU available to us should we ever need them,” said Dr. Leach. “Given their proximity and strong, vested interest in our schools and community, we make the most of our relationship with local law enforcement, to maintain our top safety and security priority: making sure students are well taken care of at all times, and that our district remains a safe and secure learning environment for everyone.”

The Nov. 7 training opened with an address and presentation by law enforcement representatives in the auditorium. As district employees gathered in the auditorium in the morning, Dr. Leach heard a number of colleagues sharing their unease that such training is even necessary.

“We never know when we could be in a crisis and each and every one of us should be prepared. I know how important your roles as teachers, counselors, and more are. I appreciate each and every one of your roles and how we work together as a team,” said Dr. Leach. 

Guest presenter and training coordinator Lt. Kevin D. Phillips is an officer with the Woodbury Police Department and member of the TRU. He said that while active shooter scenarios are not so commonplace that everyday citizens are “having conversations about what they would do if a shooter came through the door today,” but that it is important to understand, albeit hard to accept, that in 2023, planning for “when, not if” something like this may happen is essential.

Lt. Phillips shared insights and anecdotes from 30 years in law enforcement, and provided a brief history of school shootings and their recent escalation. He began with Charles Whitman, who shot 45 people (killing 22) at the University of Texas in 1966. Then, he talked about what many feel is the gateway incident to the modern escalation of gun violence in schools, the 1999 massacre at Columbine.

“How many school shootings do you think there have been in the United States between 1999 and 2023,” asked Lt. Phillips? “Three hundred eighty shootings have taken place in schools since 1999, and 2022 had the most of any year since! As if that couldn’t be made more disturbing, think about this, 69% of victims in these shootings have been between the ages of 10 and 19.”

In 2022, there were 51 fatal school shootings.

“Today, I want to give you an idea of what it’s like to look at these situations through a police officer’s eyes,” said Lt. Phillips. “We can educate you on how police officers will come into the situation, and the things you should be doing to help us save lives. I and the other officers are here to take care of you guys. We want to give you the best education and training today that we can, so if something happens, we’re ready for it, and you’re ready for it.”

Lt. Phillips said that his goal for the first session was to give district employees a sense of the TRU’s approach to crises. He and the team of law enforcement officers showed district employees exactly what they could expect to see from law enforcement officers in an active shooter situation, and the things district employees should do to help ensure the first responders’ ability to carry out smooth tactical operations. To accomplish this, employees divided into three groups, elementary employees, middle school employees and high school employees.

The three groups rotated through three scenarios wherein the officers demonstrated the training and techniques they apply in critical situations. There were two hallway/classroom scenarios, and a large group scenario in the high school media center, during which they recreated a hostage situation.

The sessions, held in a simulated lockdown environment, were designed to make staff well aware of how they should react in crises like these to keep themselves and their students safe without hindering the work of first responders, whose primary mission is to neutralize the shooter.

Subsequent ongoing training sessions have been tentatively planned, and will culminate in an active shooter drill for both employees and students.

“We want to thank everyone for coming together as a district to focus on these uncomfortable but essential safety and security topics,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Meghan McGourty. “The dedication it shows on everyone’s part to the well-being of our students and of our school community shows just how much you care about the students of Warwick Valley.” 

The training is one more highlight of Warwick Valley Central School District’s commitment to the security and safety of its students. Other recent measures include updating the District-Wide Emergency Response Plan, as well as establishing a partnership with a security consultancy the district contracted with at the beginning of the school year, to assess and improve the safety and security measures currently in place at our schools.

“Tuesday was an important and impactful day for our school community, and we are looking forward to future training sessions, despite the unsettling nature of the subject matter,” said Dr. Leach. “But, every session will provide us with more knowledge about how to respond in a crisis, and more opportunities to test and improve our current safety protocols and measures.”

The district will continue to keep the community updated on future training sessions and the ongoing process of maintaining and improving our security measures. Due to the sensitive nature of emergency preparedness and plans in the schools, all training will be closed to the public and media.

“I want to offer heartfelt gratitude from everyone at the district to our invaluable partners in this process, our local police department and the TRU,” said Dr. Leach. “We cannot thank law enforcement enough for taking the time to prepare and present this week’s training, and for the role they play daily in our district already.”


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