(TNS) - While a real-life active shooter terrorized members of Congress and their staff on a baseball field outside Washington, D.C., city and county law enforcement came together for a drill Wednesday morning at a local school to ensure students, teachers and staff stay safe in Aiken.
The Aiken County Public School District coordinated a multiagency active shooter drill, which had been scheduled before the shooting in Alexandria, Virginia, unfolded, in conjunction with the Aiken Department of Public Safety, North Augusta Department of Public Safety and the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office at Aiken Middle School. New Ellenton, Jackson, Wagener and Burnettown police departments also participated.
“This drill was a collaboration among our area’s three large active shooter responding teams,” said Merry Glenne Piccolino after the drill. “We appreciate the opportunity to test our practices.”
Dr. Shawn Foster, the school district’s chief officer of Operations and Student Services, said the exercise provided the district and law enforcement an opportunity to collaborate with one another to ensure that “folks feel that sense of safety and security.”
“This drill today reinforces what Aiken County is and has always been: a place where organizations come together to fulfill a purpose,” Foster said. “And that purpose is to ensure that everyone is safe and that we maintain the quality county and city that we are.”
Capt. Eric Abdullah of the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office set the scene for the practice drill.
“We planned on having all the law enforcement agencies respond to a reported, simulated active shooter at Aiken Middle School,” he said. “We all collaborated on the training process and tried to make the simulation as realistic as possible.
“We all have plans, and we all have trained on active shooter response; but as a large group we have never done that. This is the first time we’ve been able to do that together.”
After receiving a 911 call reporting an active shooter at Aiken Middle, the initial responding officers arrived, entered the school and apprehended a subject quickly, Abdullah said.
The law enforcement agencies activated other resources, too, to assist in searching the school and finding the shooter and any other possible suspects.
“After the school implemented its lockdown procedure, we were able to access every room and find everybody inside,” Abdullah said. “It was a very successful training day today.”
Lt. Craig Burgess with the Aiken Department of Public Safety called the drill a “good command and control” exercise but added the collaborating agencies purposely did not plan every aspect of the operation.
“We didn’t want to control everything to make it as realistic as we could,” he said.
Lt. Burgess said all agencies took away “lessons learned.”
“The school district will look at its procedures and policies, and we’re going to look at what we do and how we can improve,” he said. “It’s all to the benefit of the citizens that we all serve. Everything went well. Hopefully – God forbid it ever happens – we’ll do the best we can.”
Capt. Maryann Burgess with Aiken Public Safety said all of the county’s law enforcement agencies need to work and train together.
“We train regularly in the schools, but this was pulling together all of that training with the school district to make it more of a realistic scenario,” she said. “This is something we can build upon, again, working together, to support all county resources in the event of any major emergency in our county. It’s important that we have all of this participation, and we can only look forward to making it better in the future with a larger exercise.”
Lt. Burgess said Wednesday’s drill was good preparation for a possible larger exercise later.
“This was a very scaled down exercise,” he said. “A full-blown exercise would involve hundreds of personnel and a true beginning and end scenario, which would take hours and hours to do.
“That is something we’re looking at in the future to put on somewhere in Aiken County with a lot more people involved, including emergency management.”
Although Wednesday’s drill focused on an active shooter in a school, Foster said the training practiced and lessons learned from the exercise apply not only in classrooms and on campuses but also to other settings.
“It’s not simply about schools,” he said. “This is just the building we used today to conduct this training, but from what I saw today, much of the actual training could translate to businesses and other areas and situations in the county.”
Abdullah said wherever an incident involving an active shooter occurs – in Washington, around the world, around the country or in the local community – law enforcement must demonstrate to the public that they are “very proficient in the craft” they are trained to do.
“We want to respond effectively to let our citizens know that we’re confident in the jobs that we’re doing, and this collaboration today very much proves that,” Abdullah said.
He added, however, that, although his and the other agencies are trained and prepared for any active shooter scenario, they always strive for improvement.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve,” Abdullah said. “There is no way we can predict anything that is going to occur other than to try to do our best to be ready for whatever situation arises.”
Lt. Burgess agreed.
“Things are constantly changing,” he said. “Strategies are changing. Responses are changing. What we did 10 or 15 years ago is not even considered now. It’s a constant growing process. What’s better? What’s going to work best for the real-world situations that, unfortunately, are happening today?”
Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.
©2017 the Aiken Standard (Aiken, S.C.)
Visit the Aiken Standard (Aiken, S.C.) at www.aikenstandard.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.