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Emergency responders, Hancock Co. High staff alike learn how to be better prepared for mock disaster during full-scale school shooting drill

Hancock Clarion, Hawesville, May 3, 2012

Mock disaster tests school, emergency services preparedness
By Ralph Dickerson

On Friday, April 27 Hancock County High School held a mock disaster drill to test the school’s emergency procedures. Emergency services conducted a mock shooting exercise that started just before school began.

In this scenario, a shooter, played by emergency services member Tim Meserve, started shooting a firearm in the school’s Commons Area. When the shooting started, school officials quickly evacuated students out of the Commons Area and into classrooms.

Emergency services personnel then sprang into action.

One four person team entered the building and conducted a search for the shooter. The team quickly made its way to the Commons Area, where the first reported shooting happened, and when the team found no one there, the team started a search down the hall leading from the Commons Area toward the back of the school. In the back hallway near the band room, the squad found the shooter, and he surrendered without incident.

“I thought it went well,” Kyle Estes, Hancock County School System Director of Student Services said.

Rick Montague, Hancock County Emergency Services Director concurred. He said the overall test went well, but did reveal a few minor glitches that needed addressing. He said the main problem during the drill turned out to be lights left on in some abandoned rooms, doors left unlocked that needed to be locked, and doors left locked that needed to be unlocked.

“The main purpose was to test the school’s lock down system process so if they do have an intruder, the system runs smoothly,” Montague said.

Hancock County High School Principal Rick Lasley said the drill did discover a problem the school needs to address. Lasley said the test revealed that school staff need keys to all rooms in the building to help emergency services gain access to locked doors during an emergency.

He said overall, the mock drill met expectations.

“The students and staff did what we trained them to do,” Lasley said. “The purpose for us to do this is for us to have a concrete plan and be safer in the future.”

The mock drill consisted of two different entry teams performing a different part of the test. The first team entered the building on a mission to find the shooter. This team consisted of Lewisport Police John Garner at the point position, Hancock County Sheriff Deputies James Garrison and Chris DeJarnette as the wings and Kentucky State Trooper James Gaither on rear guard.

The second team went into the building to conduct a sweep of the school to locate students. This team consisted of Trooper Gaither on point, Hancock County Sheriff ’s Deputies Chris DeJarnette and Aaron Emmick at the wings and Lewisport Police Officer Greg Linn on rear guard. This team started its sweep of the building by going down the hallway toward the back of the school near the front offices.

As they went, Gaither pointed out doors on either side of the hallway, and Emmick and DeJarnette checked the doors to see if staff locked them. If locked, they moved on, but if unlocked Emmick and DeJarnette carefully entered the room to look for an intruder or students.

When they found students, they ordered them to come out of the rooms with their hands up. They then contacted emergency workers outside of the school and informed them of a group of students about to exit the building. Kentucky State Police Trooper Trevor Scott accompanied the team, and offered advice on what to do as they went along.

Scott said the biggest problem in exercises such as the one Friday is the different procedures followed by different departments.

Scott said over the years, agencies developed different procedures on how to conduct a sweep of a building. In an emergency situation, members of different departments must work together to accomplish the task.

“If we have three or four agencies working together, you can guarantee they have been trained to do it (sweeps) differently,” Scott said. “We do not get to do enough of these joint exercises.”

Scott said communication is the most important asset of emergency services. During the sweep conducted with Trooper Gaither at the point, he started out using the technique he learned at the State Police Academy.

When he started the sweep down the hallway past the front office, Gaither walked past the bathrooms located on the right. Immediately Deputy Emmick told him they needed to check those rooms. In a matter of seconds, the team adapted its search method to include checking doors as they came to them.

Gaither’s role became one of telling the team the location of doors and hallways, and to protect the team from any threats coming from the front.

Likewise, Officer Linn’s role as rear guard entailed protecting the team from any threats from the rear. He also informed the team of anything they missed. Linn’s duties required him to walk backward the entire time the team conducts its search. The rear guard position requires incredible discipline because this person needs to ignore what happens at his or her back, and concentrate on keeping the team’s rear secure. Scott said the rear guard ignores anything else happening at his or her rear, even if it is gunfire, or things falling down nearby.

Since this person walks backward the whole way, communication between team members becomes key. Other team members need to communicate with the rear guard and let theperson know of obstacles in the hallway, steps being encountered or any other important information.

“The rear guard is the hardest, worst position to be in,” Scott said.

Hancock County Sheriff Dale Bozarth said the entire exercise went smoothly. He said it actually went too well, but that it did prove useful.

“It was a great learning experience for us,” Bozarth said. “It was a good working scenario.”

Bozarth explained that in real life, especially in a rural area, it takes time for emergency services, meaning law enforcement, medical services, and other personnel, to arrive on scene. With the arrival time staggered, the decision making process differs. Bozarth said the first people on the scene need to survey the situation to determine a course of action. In the case of a shooting situation, like the one practiced Friday, the response depends upon what is occurring inside the building at the time.

Bozarth said if things are calm, emergency crews possess the luxury of waiting to enough personnel arrive on scene to form a proper entry team. If they arrive on scene and the shooter is still on the shooting rampage, they must act with the number of emergency personnel on hand.

“We are not going to have the luxuries we had during this drill,” Bozarth said. “We will have to make the decision to go in and take care of
the threat.”

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