In the event of a school emergency in which students would be evacuated from their building and taken to another location, a community's concern would include safely removing students and reuniting them with their families, as well as handling the emergency scene.

"There's the school district side of things, but the city's also going to be involved in executing a reunification plan," said Bill Vedra, Grove City's director of safety.

"A reunification effort is a community effort," said Gary Sigrist Jr., CEO and president of Safeguard Risk Solutions, a safety-planning consulting firm.

Sigrist, who previously served as South-Western City School District's project director for readiness and emergency management, helped coordinate and lead a joint exercise June 11 to simulate the actions and decisions that school, city and emergency officials would make in an emergency.

"It's a chance to put into action the plan the district has developed," Sigrist said. "It's important that everyone know what they're supposed to do. They'll need to know it if something actually would happen."

South-Western administrators, Grove City leaders and representatives from the Grove City Division of Police and Jackson Township Fire Department participated in a simulation of activities that would occur as the school district executed a plan to reunite students with their families after an event had taken place.

During the two-hour exercise, school officials were stationed at South-Western's school board meeting room at the District Service Center on Marlane Drive. The meeting room would serve as the district's emergency-operations center if a real emergency were to occur, Sigrist said.

Deputy Superintendent David Stewart and South-Western business-services director Monte Detterman led the response effort at the school's EOC.

City officials were headquartered in a conference room at City Hall, where Vedra was the leader.

Both sides communicated through video conferencing to relay information and assistance through the simulated student evacuation and reunification.

"The scenario we chose is some sort of emergency situation at Jackson Middle School," Sigrist said. "We decided not to specify a particular kind of incident. The general scenario was there's been an incident at the school involving injuries, there is a criminal investigation that is underway and we need to move students to another location."

Throughout the exercise, school and city officials and emergency personnel communicated as they would in a real situation, working together to coordinate moving the middle school students to Grove City High School, contacting and informing parents and making arrangements for parents to reunite with their children while managing the situation at the school.

At the end of the exercise, officials held a mock press conference, answering questions from people portraying reporters.

The exercise did not extend to acting out the emergency situation at the school, Sigrist said.

Instead, the participants went through the procedures they would if a real situation were occurring, he said.

About 30 school administrators participated in the exercise, Sigrist said.

The reunification plan involves dividing their roles during an event into those who plan the response, those who work out the logistics and those who would put the plan into operation, he said.

The level of cooperation between the city and school district to execute the exercise was impressive, Sigrist said.

"Our role is to support the school district in the planning of a reunification process," Vedra said. "They would be implementing the evacuation of students and the reunification plans and the city would support that through road closures, managing traffic flow, securely transporting the students while handling the criminal investigation and emergency response at the school."

About 30 city staff members, including department heads, other city administrators and staff members from each department, participated in the exercise, he said.

"It's important to have multiple people who can handle each task, because if a real event occurs, you don't know if someone is going to be on vacation or be absent because of illness," Vedra said.

The simulation was observed by evaluators who will measure how well the plan was put into place using guidelines set by the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program, Sigrist said.

"Out of that evaluation, we'll put together a report to point out where things went well and where we think there could be some improvement," he said. "It's vital to have any issues worked out in case a real situation occurs."

Sigrist's firm helped coordinate an emergency training session with the school district last year that involved a scenario in which a tornado hits the community.

"Right after that, we had an actual tornado hit Grove City," he said, referring to an EF1 tornado that touched down a little after 5 p.m. April 3, 2018, in a portion of the city.

The evaluation of that exercise led to a desire to test how the community safely would transport students from one school to another and connect them with their families, Sigrist said.

The June 11 training session was funded using a portion of a $133,780 school-safety training grant South-Western had received through Ohio House Bill 318, which was signed into law in August 2018.

The law provides $14 million in grants to Ohio school districts, including $12 million for school safety and $2 million to support alternatives to suspensions and expulsions.

Districts may use the school-safety funding for school-resource officer certification and training, active shooter and school-safety training, educational resources or training to identify and assist students with mental health issues.

South-Western is using its grant to hold several training sessions throughout 2019, said Sandy Nekoloff, executive director of communications.

In March, the district brought in Scott Poland, an expert in youth suicide, school crisis and prevention, for a staff session and a parent-engagement meeting.

A threat-assessment training session was held June 4 at Central Crossing High School and involved teams of three to five participants from each school building, Nekoloff said.

The eight-hour training session included segments on understanding school violence and how prevention is possible, what is behavioral-threat assessment, an overview a school threat-assessment process and steps for investigating and evaluating threats and other concerning behavior, she said.

The district also purchased bleed-control kits for each classroom, and the building groups were trained June 5 in the proper use of the kits along with other life-saving techniques, Nekoloff said.

Participants also reviewed the district's protocols for active-threat scenarios.

On Aug. 6, the district will hold a retreat day in which school buildings will have the option to have their entire staff trained in the active-threat protocols, general safety and the bleed-control techniques, she said.

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