Police prepare for worst-case scenario

Gunmen will open fire inside a San Francisco Catholic high school this morning in a mock shooting designed to teach police, students and faculty how to respond to a genuine school attack.

San Francisco Police will portray the gunmen at St. Ignatius College Preparatory High School, walking into classrooms in the Sunset District high school. Students will act as the victims, according to Paul Totah, a teacher and spokesman at the school.

Police departments have staged similar exercises at high schools across the country since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 15 — including themselves — at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., on April 20, 1999.

While San Francisco police have trained privately to respond to school and workplace shootings, this is the first time they’ll work with a school full of students, Sgt. Steve Mannina said.

“It’s important to mirror real life as much as possible, so we’re more prepared,” Mannina said.

St. Ignatius students interviewed Tuesday reacted to the concept with more curiosity than trepidation.

“I wouldn’t expect [a shooting] to happen at our school, because people here are pretty sane,” said senior Raquel Marshall. “I guess it’s good practice. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”

Police gave St. Ignatius faculty some details about what to expect — including a lockdown and evacuation — but are keeping some information under wraps because they hope the event will yield a bit of chaos, according to Totah.

“The police want an element of surprise. They want to see where the systems fail,” Totah said.

This may be the first mock shooting at a San Francisco school, but it might not be the last. Police have approached the San Francisco Unified School District about doing similar exercises in some of The City’s public schools, according to Mannina.

District schools already perform lockdown drills, according to district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.

Funds will come from Department Homeland Security grants, according to Mannina.

Parents at St. Ignatius said it makes sense to be ready.

“With all the sick-minded kids who blurt out something and then [shoot], it’s a good thing for kids to be prepared,” said Noel Carzon, whose son attends St. Ignatius.

Eventually, such drills could become as commonplace as earthquake and fire drills, according to Totah.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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