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Preparing for the worst, hoping for the best

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

When Homeland Security is mentioned, it usually conjures up thoughts of terrorist attacks or terrorist threats. While that is the case in some instances, Homeland Security also focuses on other threats which, while on a smaller scale, still have the ability to destroy the peace in a small town.

West Virginia Homeland Security Area Liaison Shawn Dunbrack is focused on preparing our school system for situations that can put staff and students in harm’s way – whether it be from fire, chemical spill or an active shooter situation.

Dunbrack began working with Pocahontas County Schools last year to create plans for emergency situations.

“Basically, we started by asking, what is your plan, if anything happens – whether it’s a shooter or a fire, or anything – and you have to leave the school? Where are you going to go?” he said. “Each of the schools started looking at good places they could go to real quick – ‘if we can’t get out of the building and go across the road to Mitchell’s or a place like that.’”

Dunbrack said they all found places and identified areas that worked for each particular class or group, even though some of the places could not accommodate the entire school.

With evacuation plans set, the schools have started to practice and have drills to get the students prepared for moving quickly and safely to the facility selected as a safe place.

“Marlinton Middle School did a drill which moved students to the hospital,” he said. “They did the drill, and it went really well. Shockingly it took about twenty seconds to evacuate that whole school. It really surprised me that the building was emptied in that length of time.

“The state has mandated that schools do one drill per quarter on an active shooter or some kind of violent intruder-type drill,” he continued. “The schools will have to do those moving forward. We won’t necessarily be involved in that unless they ask us to.”

At this time, Dunbrack is focused on training school staff and helping them get comfortable with their roles in the evacuation and reunification plans that will be set in motion during an emergency.

While it is scary to think of these things happening at the schools, Dunbrack said it is important for the adults to know what to expect if something bad happens.

“The FBI put out a video called ‘The Coming Storm,’” he said. “It’s about a half an hour long. It’s a Hollywood quality movie of a shooting at a small community college. It’s a really good movie – very dramatic, a lot of blood and gore in it – things to wake people up and see, this is what it’s really going to look like. So, we’ve been showing that to staff just to get them in the mindset of ‘this is how it’s going to work.’ Then from that, we’ve also gone into – in Pocahontas County, this is what you can expect to be your response. You may only get a couple law enforcement officers initially. It’s going to be hours before you start seeing hundreds of people at the school.”

Dunbrack introduced The Standard Response Protocol and The Standard Reunification Method created by the I Love You Guys Foundation, which was founded by John Michael-Keyes after he lost his daughter in the Platte Canyon High School hostage crisis on September 27, 2006. Aside from the perpetrator, Keyes’ daughter was the only casualty.

“The Braxton County Health Department actually brought that [program] into this part of the state and invited all of the health department people from around the state to the training,” Dunbrack said. “We also paid for thirty of the emergency management folks to go, and six of us from our office, as well as Tony Domingo, who is the state safe schools administrator. We thought we could teach this program across the state because we thought it was a good program.”

Along with learning what to do when an emergency arises, the program provides step-by-step instruction on the reunification process – the time when students are allowed to leave the safe place and go home with their parents.

“You just assume you’re going to load them on the bus and they can go straight home from there, but you can’t,” Dunbrack explained. “Law enforcement is going to need to interview them. We need to account for all the kids, then they need to make sure they are all okay, getting medical treatment for any of them that need medical or mental health treatment. We need to get them fed because it is going to be long hours.

“Then when ready, we send out this notice to parents to come pick up their kids,” he continued. “The process is pretty simple, but it will take time. We want to make sure the kids are safe and to keep everyone calm.”

In the process of creating the plans and preparing for the worst case scenario, Dunbrack said he wants the community and parents to be informed of what is going on. With that said, there are some things that he will not reveal, mainly to ensure the safety of the students – specifically the evacuation sites.

“Very few know,” he said. “The teachers each know where their evacuation point is and the teachers individually have talked to a business or some location about where they’re going to go, so those businesses know, but that’s it.”

Dunbrack and the board office have worked together to implement this program, not because there have been threats made, but to be prepared in case something ever does arise.

“The community needs to know; the parents need to know – they are working on this,” Dunbrack said of the board. “It’s not going to be something we’ll make up as we go. West Virginia, as a whole, wants to be on the forefront saying we are prepared rather than being reactive to it.”

To learn more about the I Love You Guys Foundation, visit

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at

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