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Strengthening Our Safety

Unionville-Chadds Ford School District Hosts Active Shooter Exercise at Unionville High School

On most days, the presence of dozens of public safety partners on the Unionville High School (UHS) campus, might be cause for concern among members of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District (UCFSD) community. 

Instead, on Wednesday, April 10’s In-Service Day, the sound of sirens coming from UHS was a sign of the school’s proactive safety efforts.  

Led by the Chester County Department of Emergency Services (DES), UCFSD became the third District in the entire county to host an active shooter exercise. 

In addition to UHS administration and staff, public safety partners from more than a dozen agencies participated, including the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, Good Fellowship Ambulance Corp., Kennett Fire Company, Longwood Fire Company, Po-Mar-Lin Fire Company, Southern Chester County EMS, Union Fire Company, West Grove Fire Company, Kennett Township Police Department, Pennsylvania State Police, West Chester University Police Department and Westtown East Goshen Township Police Department. 

“These full-scale exercises are used to validate planning efforts and to assess our potential to reach full capability levels on identified exercise objectives that often include the need to ensure seamless coordination and communication between all participating agencies,” said DES Training and Exercise Coordinator Heather DeStefano. She added that while active shooter exercises require the use of many resources, improving our readiness for the unimaginable is priceless. 

So, after beginning the day with a safety briefing and check, all were staged for the start of the simulation. In response to reports of two shooters, UHS staff first enacted the Standard Response Protocol (SRP). Police arrived on scene to seek out the suspects before Fire and EMS treated and transported any patients. Later, all collaborated on reunification efforts and communicated with families from a unified command. 

UHS Math Teacher and Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association representative Dori Ray said that the active shooter exercise was chilling, but critical. “I have a better understanding of how first responders will do their jobs and how I could react in ways that keep me and my students safe.” she reflected. 

Staff could take advantage of counseling available on site from the Chester County Intermediate Unit. 

“I can’t say how proud I am of our staff,” noted UHS Principal Amy Jenkins. “We had 99% attend. And even though they were nervous about the day, they were confident when it came to executing the plan. From the incident command post, I saw our staff evacuating to the relocation and reunification area. The sense of accomplishment could be seen in their body language. We have furthered our preparedness, which is necessary to ensure the safety of our school.”

UCFSD Superintendent John Sanville gave his gratitude to DeStefano and to the other public safety partners who participated on Wednesday. “We saw firsthand something that we always knew to be true– that our first responders would not hesitate to risk their own safety for that of our students and our staff. There is no doubt that the relationships our School District and our staff forged that day are irreplaceable.” 

What’s next, you ask? While another exercise of this scale may not currently be possible at all schools, UCFSD Safety and Security Coordinator James Whitesel has his sights set on making facilities improvements and providing follow-on professional development opportunities for all staff after receiving DESs final report. 

For more on School Safety, please visit the UCFSD website.