PICKENS COUNTY — A shooting incident inside a Pickens County school is the worst a parent or family might be able to imagine so with that in mind, Pickens County Emergency Management along with multiple agencies engaged in an “active shooter” exercise at Liberty High School.
With students out for a holiday, Liberty High School presented a perfect training opportunity for law enforcement, first responders, and medical personnel to prepare for the worst — an armed intruder in a Pickens County school. The School District of Pickens County was involved with the exercise on Nov. 24, including the planning for the event as far back as some six months.
The scenario was based on the expulsion of a student who returned to the school — armed — and eventually caused a chemical spill in one of the labs, giving Pickens County Hazmat an opportunity to train as well.
Injured students and faculty were also part of the drill, creating diversions for law enforcement as they swept the building in teams and medical personnel that were also involved.
The agencies involved across Pickens County in the exercise were Pickens County Emergency Management, SDPC, Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, Pickens County Emergency Medical Services, Pickens County Hazmat Team, Pickens City Police Department, Liberty Police Department, Liberty Fire Department, Baptist Easley Hospital and Cannon Memorial Hospital.
Sheriff Rick Clark said the exercise had more than one goal but there was one area of emphasis to be stressed.
“Communication in an event such as a shooter in a school is important, especially when you have as many agencies involved as we do here,” Clark said following the exercise’s completion. “Today we found some areas where we could improve and that’s why we did this. There were a lot of things we did well but we did find some areas we need to improve on and we will be covering those when we go over the results of the exercise as a group.”
For the agencies involved, Clark recognized the need for exercises like Tuesday’s to assist the varying agencies working together.
“If a situation like this were to break, there are a lot of organizations that have to work together and since we are never in the same place at the same time, we need to work on exercises such as this one,” Clark said. “When a group of organizations such as these have to work and coordinate together, working a scenario such as this allows us to communicate with one another and the public. Communication along with being prepared are the keys.”
The procedures to be followed by school staff and personnel, along with law enforcement, are procedures they have become familiar with, but the execution is different when only applied in theory.
The processes, according to Clark, have to be practiced including shutdown procedures, locating personnel, contacting law enforcement, and the eventual clearing of the building and assistance to any injured.
This exercise is not only beneficial in the case of a school shooter but also any environment.
“We do the live drills in order to save lives. The live drill allows everyone involved to apply what they know and is a part of the training necessary in a situation such as this one,” Clark said. “Although this is a school scenario today, what our officers and responders do applies to anywhere, a large office, small building, or a hospital. Our folks should be trained to deal with any environment, to do away with the threat and then help. It doesn’t matter the facility.”
Under the exercise, the notice is sent out a shooter has entered the school and law enforcement begins the process of notifying all the agencies needed for response. Access roads and the school itself are placed on lockdown and law enforcement enters the building, searching for the shooter, or shooters, and clears the building.
Once the building is secure, medical personnel and medical assistance are rendered.
In the case of the Nov. 24 exercise, a chemical spill was simulated inside a lab and hazmat team members entered the building to first determine the chemicals involved in the spill and then process the scene for cleanup. Once any injuries are located, the injured are removed from the building and treated by EMS and transported to local hospitals where the exercise was also being run.
Under normal circumstances, the School Resource Officer s a major component of any exercise, as they are law enforcement and also familiar with the surroundings. In the case of the Nov. 24 exercise, Liberty High School’s SRO, Tim Rampey, was a shooting victim and removed from the exercise to increase the work for law enforcement and other personnel.
Rampey was not disturbed by being removed from the exercise as he knows “every nook and cranny” of Liberty High School, and his removal made the drill more difficult and a bigger learning experience.
“For one thing, an active shooter inside the school means all of these organizations have to come together, incorporating the outside with law enforcement and if the procedures aren’t practiced then mistakes can be made,” Rampey said. “By having these exercises everyone knows exactly what they have to do, what’s happening at all times, and what’s happening inside the building. There isn’t another way for all of these groups to know what everyone is doing, or supposed to do in a situation like this, until we actually come together as a group and see how it all comes together.”
Even local hospitals such as Baptist Easley benefited from the active shooter exercise.
“You never know when things can happen and it can be as simple as a school bus crash that can trigger an emergency for us,” Chad Carlson, manager of Marketing and Public Relations for Baptist Easley, said following the exercise. “It doesn’t have to be a scenario of a shooter to create an emergency situation for us. Exercises such as this one, and the one we held this year at the hospital, help us be prepared. If nothing else it is good for us to practice in order to be ready, though we certainly hope we never have to be.”
Reach D. C. Moody or Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.