For a few days this week, the sound of gunshots filled North Andover High School.
Not to worry -- the students were on vacation, there were no real guns used, and the whole thing was a training exercise for local police officers. The North Andover Police Department, with cooperation with the North Andover School Department, conducted active shooter/crisis intervention drills inside the High School on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
As with a real-life situation, there was no time to prepare, no time to go get other equipment, ballistic vests or additional firepower.
They headed into the building and were met by the School Resource Officer Brendan Gallagher and North Andover Police Officer and NEMLEC SWAT Team Officer Patrick Noonan.
"The officers were sent in in pairs, and they had to neutralize a threat," Police Lt. Charles Gray said. "Everyone neutralized the situation."
There was never any actual danger. Police turned in their weapons at the north entrance and were given "simunitions" (firearms that discharge softer rounds at high speed).
They had to find and take down the "gunman," also a North Andover officer, who was also armed with simunitions and returned fire on the officers.
So, the sound of gunshots could be heard from inside the building.
Gray arranged the scenario-based training for officers on shift to test their response in a real-life type situation. It forced officers to use their training and experience to navigate and contain the hallways, stairwells and classrooms of the high school, protecting potential victims while trying to eliminate a gunman. It also allowed officers who work night shift the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the high school.
"It was very successful," Gray said. "The chief was very happy with it, and there will be more of that going on."
Police Chief Paul Gallagher has made school safety a priority since he took the reins at the department last year.