WEST FRANKFORT — West Frankfort teachers and staff were exposed to a sound they never wanted to hear during a special school safety training Friday.
The sound of gunfire, actually blanks fired from a 12 gauge shotgun and a .223 caliber rifle, replaced the usual school hallway sounds made by talking and laughing children.
The training, which took place after students were dismissed for the day, was designed to teach teachers and staff to immediately recognize the sound of gunfire and the racking of a pump shotgun in their schools if the worse should happen.
“Unfortunately we live in a day and age where these things are necessary,” Frankfort Schools Superintendent Greg Goins said. “It’s the world we live in now. School safety has to be the top priority.”
The training began in the high school auditorium with a reminder of the “world we live in now,” from West Frankfort Police Detective Rich Bernadini, who described each mass shooting that has taken place in the United States since 1999.
A video clip was then shown depicting what happened in the library of Columbine High School, where 13 people were killed and 21 injured in a mass shooting in 1999.
That clip was followed by a gunshot that resounded in the auditorium.
Teachers and staff then went to their classrooms and offices in each of the schools in the city for the second part of the training — shots fired in the hallways of their schools.
At the high school, a series of shots rang out as police moved from the west side of the third floor to the east side of the first floor.
“We want them to know what gunfire sounds like so if they do hear it they don’t think it’s just a chair or trash can falling over,” West Frankfort Police Chief Jeff Tharp said.
Tharp has taken a proactive approach to school safety in the Frankfort Community Unit School District, Goins said.
“These things are addressed in our school safety plan, but it’s hard to prepare for chaos. We have to be made aware of what may happen and how to respond if it does,” he said.
Some people were visibly shaken by the exercise, especially as the booming of shots grew louder in the hallway near their classrooms and offices.
“No one wants to think this could happen but it’s better to be prepared and never have to use the preparation than it is to be unprepared,” teacher Marsha Smart said.
Franklin-Williamson Regional School Superintendent Matt Donkin attended the training, just as he did an “active shooter” exercise at the high school when students were on break.
“Each district has a safety plan and works closely with local law enforcement. It’s not just a plan on a shelf, training is included,” Donkin said.
West Frankfort schools will be upgrading security in the next few weeks when keyless entry and buzz-in systems are installed.
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