Rockville Centre police conduct first active shooter drill at South Side High School


Faculty at South Side High School watched as Rockville Centre Police simulated hunting down an active shooter while mock students laid across the floor with gruesome fake injuries as part of the first drill of its kind.

The police, with help from the Northwell Health Trauma Institute, held a training session at the school on June 21, during which roughly 70 staff members, including teachers and security guards, were educated on protocol if they should encounter an active shooter situation.

“Unfortunately, it’s become necessary to be prepared for incidents like this,” Police Commissioner James Vafeades said. The relationship between the department and the school district is strong, he added, and serious training is crucial. Vafeades highlighted the importance of cooperation between faculty and the police, and for staff to see what the police are doing and thinking during an incident like this.

Though Vafeades did not want to explain specific tactics for safety reasons, he said the police executed their “standardized practice in the event of an active shooter.” Vafeades also added the police have been involved in this type of training for more than 10 years, and that he considers his department “ahead of the curve.”

The drill included two hours of classroom and hands-on instruction, according to Noreen Leahy, the district’s assistant superintendent of pupil personnel services and special education. Northwell, which provided the mock students who laid moulaged — covered in fake wounds and blood on the floor — taught the staff how to use tourniquets and pack the wounds of the injured as part of their “Stop the Bleed” instruction, while the police searched for the mock active shooter.

“Northwell Health Trauma Institute facilitated this Stop the Bleed event in the hopes that having more civilians aware of bleeding control training can prevent deaths at a mass casualty incidents or from an accident,” said Nathan Christopherson, assistant vice president for Northwell. He added they have been conducting such training sessions for the past few years, most recently in the Bethpage school district.

During the drill, South Side faculty were schooled on how to prolong victims’ lives while waiting for emergency care to arrive and were given a look at how law enforcement handles the situation in slow motion — responding officers are trained to apprehend the gunman first, not stop and tend to the wounded.

“It gets people thinking, ‘What would I do if?’ and we were able to fill in those blanks,” Leahy said, adding that the training was educational and helpful. “We all have more confidence in one another’s roles, but hopefully we’ll never have to use this.”

Tara Algerio-Vento, a district nurse practitioner who helped organize the training, said that staff members were shocked at first but became desensitized, adding that it is important for them to “know what to expect, and remain calm” in order to act accordingly.

“It gave us an eerie sense of reality, if this ever occurs,” she said. “… In today’s world, we need to be more aware of our surroundings when we enter work.”

“It’s up to us to help one another,” Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson said, noting that South Side will be doing another training in August.