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'It's Surreal' - At Laconia Middle School, Training for the Worst Case Scenario

On Saturday, Laconia Middle School became a training ground for police, firefighters, and EMS personnel from across Belknap County.

The Laconia Police Department organized the training to test local emergency response in case of an active shooter. Police departments across the state conduct these regularly, but trainings at schools have ramped up in the last several years, in part due to funding from the Department of Homeland Security.

Scroll through the slideshow above to see photos from the training.

For three hours, emergency responders and a group of volunteer student actors and school administrators acted out active shooter scenarios, complete with simulated gun shots, radio dispatches, and medical evacuations.

Katie Theberge, a local high school student volunteering to play the role of a shooting victim, lay in the middle school hallway with stage blood pooling underneath her chest. 

She called it "surreal," but said she's getting used to active shooter trainings; her school, like many across New Hampshire, recently introduced ALiCE training, a shooter response method that stands for  "alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate."

But nothing prepared her and her friends for hearing gun shots fired inside a school. 

"When I heard the shots it was scary," she said. "We held hands. We were fearful, because it could actually happen to us."

Evaluators monitored emergency responders' timing and reactions to each scenario. 

Eric Wilking, an evaluator and Assistant Fire Chief from Exeter, said he saw a major improvement from last year's active shooter training held at a nearby school. 

Active shooter tragedies are inherently unpredictable, but experts say an "average" one lasts around seven minutes. The training focused on fast response rate and coordination among different groups to locate the shooter, evacuate the school, and ensure that EMS could enter as quickly as possible.

Wilking said given the scope of a shooting's aftermath, coordination is key in rural regions.

"Nobody wants to think that it’s gonna happen in our community," he said, "But in reality it happens all over the country regularly enough that we’re all going to have to stay trained. Working with our mutual aid partners - the communities that border us, or that have resources that we don’t have in our own towns - is key."

The training cost about $50,000 and came through the New Hampshire Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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