Students and staff at Bloomfield Hills High School on the afternoon of Thursday, December 19, had been trained to "run, hide, fight," in the case of an active shooter situation inside the school, and that's exactly what they did when a BluePoint alert was sounded that day at 11:58 a.m. in the building's G-Wing, near the rear of the main building by the courtyard area, said Bloomfield Township Police Chief Phil Langmeyer to Bloomfield Township trustees at their board meeting on Monday, January 13.
The alarm, which looks like a blue fire alarm that can be pulled in the case of an emergency, is equipped with a cover to prevent it from being pulled accidentally. The system sounds an audible alert of a male robotic voice repeating, "Lock down! Lock down!" to let those in the immediate area know there's a danger. The system also alerts the police department that the alarm has been pulled. At the time, school liaison officer Dave VanKerckhove was already in the school.
"Within seconds he was in the G-Wing and reported what he had heard," Langmeyer said. "The building was already starting to evacuate. The students and staff are trained to either run and getaway; to hide and lockdown if they can; and fight if they have to. It's a very simple thing to remember. When this happened, the kids were on lunch.
"Once they started running, they were running."
Within three minutes, the department had four officers on the scene. Meanwhile, waves of school children and staff were flooding from the school. A video of one of the exits shows groups of students running from the building through a parking lot. Not knowing where to go, many students turned to the township hall complex and the police and fire department buildings. Langmeyer said others went to local businesses that opened their doors for students when they were made aware of a possible shooter at the school.
Langmeyer said the department received subsequent calls from students at the nearby Starbucks who told police they had seen a gun inside the school.
Within four minutes of the alarm, a second team of police officers was in the school looking for any witnesses or threats.
"It's an over 300,000 square-foot building," Langmeyer said. "We have to look and see if there is a shooter in the building."
At 12:11 p.m., Langmeyer said there were about 1,300 kids outside of the school looking for a place to go and direction from police and staff.
"It's 9-degree windchill, and they are out there without coats," he said. "They run. They get out of the school."
Langmeyer said township employees stepped up to ensure that students had a place to go, opening up offices and areas of township hall to accommodate them. Outside, more than 80 officers responded to the scene, including those from throughout Oakland County, the Oakland County Sheriff's Office and several local departments.
While no weapon was found by police, Langmeyer said he stopped short of calling the incident a false alarm because there was a gun reported inside the school.
While it's uncertain if there was an actual threat, Langmeyer said it gave officers a chance to run through its response protocol and look for areas to improve. One issue, he said, included the unavailability of a master set of keys that could be made immediately available to police.
While searching the school, Langmeyer said officers had trouble accessing some rooms in which there were no keys. He said the department has communicated with the school since and will make sure they have access in the future.
Additional areas to look at are exit routes and a map of the school available to police. He also said he made the mistake of setting up a command center inside the school, which could be problematic in the event of a shooter situation.
Further, Langmeyer said the school, which was built in 2015, has an open floor plan, which doesn't provide many places for students to hide or shelter in place.
"The school is wide open," Langmeyer said. "It does pose a problem for us. The kids in that school don't have a lot of places to hunker down."
While he said the response wasn't flawless, staff and students, as well as response from officers who responded, was overwhelming and very good overall. Langmeyer said some changes will be made to response activities following the incident.