JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — If you noticed a heavy police presence around Mandarin High School and Crown Point Elementary School earlier on Wednesday, it was all part of a training scenario for Duval County Public School employees. Different law enforcement agencies were also there to observe the drill.
“It’s normally one of the pieces that people don’t focus on, and then it goes wrong,” said Duval County School Police Chief Greg Burton.
The training focused on making sure parents get reunited with their kids quickly in an emergency situation, like an active shooter scenario.
“This is a formal exercise of what we already do,” Burton said.
Crown Point Elementary set the stage for DCPS staff to practice the process of getting a multitude of kids back to their parents.
“Timing is critical,” Burton said. “Parents are very anxious. Students are very anxious. So in order for us to then measure how successful we are, we will look at those things.”
In this scenario, students evacuated from Mandarin High School. To make it more realistic, volunteers acted as if they were parents and students.
To make it more efficient, they used the Raptor Panic App, which DCPS launched last year.
A new reunification feature allows DCPS staff to check in both parents and students using their names and signatures.
Greeters checked in volunteers acting as parents, and then sent them to holding rooms based on their last name.
Buses of volunteers acting as students arrived from Mandarin High School. Then DCPS staff practiced screening them, and sent them to a large auditorium to wait to be reunited with their “parents.”
Volunteers serving as “runners” then became the liaison in charge of bringing the student and parent together. One runner went to find the “parent” in the holding room while another runner found the “student” in the auditorium, and then they both brought them to be reunited outside.
DCPS employees Cecilia Vanhoy and Dyamond Felton Rogers volunteered as a parent-student duo, and say they were reunited quickly.
“I think the scary part as a parent is waiting somewhere, [thinking] ‘What’s going on with my child?’” Vanhoy shared. “[But] they came to pick me up, to tell me that my parent was looking for me. And then they brought me, verified, signed off that I was a parent.”
“I have a 13-year-old,” Vanhoy pointed out. “I would be scared the longer I waited, therefore, because I didn’t wait very long and I was unified real quickly, that would make me feel better as a parent. So I was glad to see that this was a fast process.”
“Same for me,” Rogers agreed. “It was about 12 minutes and I have a 9-year-old, so I would be pretty relieved.”
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This comes less than two months after 19 children and two adults were shot and killed inside an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
“Those things didn’t just happen in Texas,” Vanhoy said. “They’ve happened in other places over the years. So, I think the better prepared we can be as a school system, the better it is for our children, for our staff, for everyone we’re responsible to take care of.”
In order for parents to receive real-time updates during an actual emergency scenario, the district advises parents to download the DCPS mobile app which police and district officials will use to send out important information.