Yesterday, sounds of gunshots and screams rang through the halls of the International School of Port of Spain. Minutes later, the residents of Westmoorings heard sirens and engines revving, as police cars drove through the neighbourhood in response to what would seem like an act of terror.
The security team at the International School worked in collaboration with the students and parents to simulate an act of terror. The simulation included the participation of the TTPS, the Bomb Squad, Fire Department and ambulance teams. It was a powerful dramatisation, and realistically displayed what would be the likely unfolding, should a school shooting occur.
An act of terrorism is not merely something the school wishes to not face. The school is in fact ensuring their security team, students and parents, along with emergency assistance, are prepared should such an event occur again.
In 2002, horror struck the school, when a 17-year-old student, Phillip Seerattan, was shot and killed after holding students hostage and shooting a security guard.
The school librarian, Debbie Jacob, recalls the day as one she will never forget. “It was really traumatic for me, especially because my son was a student here at the time. School had finished, and my son told me he was going out by the guard. Shortly after that, I heard gun shots, followed by a message that the guard was shot. We didn’t know what happened to the guard after he was shot, and I didn’t know what happened to my son. We went into lock down right away, so I was not able to go down to see where my son was, and what happened.”
Barney Latham, director of the school, said, “This is our second simulation of this kind for an emergency situation in a school. The simulation is set at pick-up time, and so, middle school and high school students would be in classes. Elementary students would have been dismissed, and a lot of parents would be around to pick up their children, simulating what is likely to happen in a worst case scenario.
“We have also simulated what happened in Florida a month ago where there was a lock-in, and the fire alarm sounded, and kids came out and were shot at,” Latham said. He was referring to a mass shooting on February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed.
Anthony Ralph, head of security, started the annual drill two years ago.
“Safety and security is something for which we always have to be prepared. There will be incidents, and so we have to be on top of our game to save as many lives as possible,” he said. “I was here for the incident in 2002, it was a tragic eye-opener for those who thought it could not have happened. This is what we are trying to do here. We are trying to bring some more reality to everyone.”
During the simulation, the arrival of the emergency teams would have been witnessed, as well as students running from varying parts of the main school building. Many of these students escaped seemingly unharmed–while others came out covered in blood–like liquid, bearing realistic cuts and wounds created by special make-up effects. At the end of the simulation, the perpetrators were apprehended. Students, teachers and parents were rescued and treated by paramedics. In finishing the activity, the school’s security team was pleased with a drill that may arguably be one of a kind in the Caribbean. Ralph said, “It was a successful event and with all going well, we will definitely be doing it again next year.”