Lessons learned from Chardon High School shooting; Sheriff says preparation was key

CHARDON, Ohio - When the first calls of a shooting at Chardon High Schoo came in on the morning of Feb. 27, 2012, first responders knew immediately what to do and where to go.

"You can't do a strategic plan in the parking lot while the incident's unfolding in front of you," said Sheriff Dan McClelland.

Like many departments across the country, their plans emerged post-Columbine. "Without a question Columbine was like a major turning point," he said. "Columbine brought the realization that if this could happen there this could happen in any community."

The Littleton, Colorado High School shooting in 1999 got the nation's attention and law enforcement's too.

"Columbine used some of the old philosophies, somewhat dated, which was contain; bring in those specially trained teams SWAT teams to go into the incident," McClelland said.

Now first responders are trained to go into a building after an active shooter. That change in philosophy brought about a change in training with many departments like Geauga County's engaging in live exercises inside schools.

It's important, he said, for first responders to know the layout of the school, "how you're going to gain access if the doors are locked, where do we go once inside, where would you land Med-evac, where do ambulances stage," he said.

Just as important that February morning McClelland said was the training done by the school itself, going immediately on lockdown.

"I don't know what I expected when I went in there, certainly perhaps hysteria. It wasn't present," he said. "It was orderly, the classrooms were quiet. That enhanced our ability to search."

Ten months after the shooting, the psychological wounds are still mending for Chardon and the sheriff's department. Watching the events unfold in Connecticut isn't easy.

"Our organization is functioning, healing but they're people, they're folks, they're parents, sometimes grandparents," McClelland said. "As everyone, our thoughts, prayers go out to Newtown and what occurred there."

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