On Monday at 9 a.m., Barbour County Schools took part in a practice evacuation drill. The Barbour Board of Education notified the county 911 Center of the activation of a planned drill to evacuate every school in the county due to an unknown threat.
"Once all those schools were secured it was determined that there was a 'bomb' located at the Belington Elementary school just as a drill," Sheriff John Hawkins said.
During the drill, one school was selected to play host to a fake bomb to place officials into the scenario of quickly searching for and disposing of it, he said.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman
During a drill conducted on Monday by the Barbour County Board of Education for the Save Schools Act, the protocol for handling bomb threats was practiced by officials at Belington Elementary School. Officials, with the help of trained bomb dogs, located the planned fake bomb and properly handled and disposed of it.
"All the other schools were put back in session and that school was searched for the bomb and the protocol for handling bomb threats was carried out," Hawkins said.
Belington Elementary and Belington Middle School remained at their off-site locations while officials searched the schools.
"Then once that was done they had a team come in and disable and dispose of what they found," Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Super said.
Trained bomb dogs were called in to assist with the drill exercise.
Although the fake bomb was located at Belington Elementary School, Belington Middle School students remained at their off-site location because of their close proximity to the elementary school. As a precaution for officials, Belington Middle School was also searched.
"After we cleared that the bomb was fake, that we had bomb dogs do another sweep of the elementary school, then we went up and had the bomb dogs do a sweep of the middle school," said Lieutenant Phil Ferguson of the sheriff's department.
"Law enforcement officers from the West Virginia State Police, Philippi Police Department, Philippi Police Task Force, Barbour County Sheriff's Office, Deputy Reserves, and Junior Police Department responded to secure the schools," Hawkins said.
Students were transported to pre-designated off-site locations and were returned to their schools after the drill was completed.
"It's a learning exercise and that's what we need to take away from it," Super said.
In conducting the evacuation exercise, school system officials were able to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses to be better prepared should an emergency force a real evacuation. Being able to discover any weaknesses was the primary focus of the drill, officials said.
"Overall, I think it was a success," Super said.
One of the greatest strengths exhibited during the drill Monday was the timeliness in which students were evacuated to their off-site designations, a strength that could truly save lives, officials said.
According to Super, the overall skeleton of communications between those involved was a success as well.
Information about strengths and weaknesses relating to the drill will be evaluated in a debriefing. Officials will review the information and meet with the Board of Education next week to see how to better address weaknesses and to pinpoint the strengths.
"Drills have been done over the years, (but) this was the largest drill done to try and incorporate all the schools and all agencies," Hawkins said.
Although the Board of Education conducted the drill as part of the Safe Schools Act, Hawkins believes that the drills will continue in the future.
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