Public Safety & Homeland Security

Drill Stresses Staff Safety: Sheriff's SWAT Team Swarms County Buildings in Realistic Response

Active lockdown situations are happening more often and preparation is important.

by Olivia Neeley, The Wilson Daily Times, N.C. / August 10, 2017
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(TNS) - The assailant walked through the quiet halls. As seconds passed, he moved from room to room. He was armed with a knife. Another assailant was downstairs, also armed.

County employees were then in an active lockdown situation. Minutes later, the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office response team moved through the hallways, cleared rooms and eventually apprehended both assailants. All were safe.

While this wasn’t a real active shooter or armed individual call, it sure felt like it. And that was the goal Wednesday as county employees participated in safety drills to prepare them for any situation that could arise.

The mock scenarios took place at two county buildings Wednesday, including the Miller Road administration building and the Wilson County Agricultural Center. Sheriff’s officials didn’t use real guns or knives, but treated it as a real scenario so that employees would get a feel for what they could expect.

County employees also attended training classes with the sheriff’s office last week. Wednesday was an opportunity to put what they learned into action.

“If we are going to do these drills, we want them to be realistic,” said County Human Resources Director Tim Bilderback, who also heads up the safety committee. He said organizers wanted to provide employees all the resources they may need if they ever encounter a real-life situation where their safety is at risk.

“The reason why it’s so important is because it does happen so frequently,” Bilderback said, referring to active assailant situations. “It’s occurring more and more.”

Bilderback said it’s important for county employees to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

He said they hope to implement these types of drills at other county buildings in the future.

“We wanted to start off on a small scale,” he said.

‘ALL ABOUT SAFETY’

The sheriff’s office also held a mock training scenario earlier Wednesday morning for employees at the agricultural center. Norman Harrell, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County, said the training staff received in the classroom last week was beneficial for employees during the active drill Wednesday.

“That is exactly what provided the tools that allowed us to respond for the training incident today,” he said.

Maj. Tom Futrell, who headed up the operation on Wednesday, said employees at those two buildings also developed an emergency action plan, which can be used for anything including an active shooter or a major disaster, including a tornado.

He said having a plan in place is vital. Futrell said each county building is constructed differently, which means emergency action plans are tailored toward what works best for them.

“It’s all about safety,” Futrell said. “The public’s safety, the employees’ safety and the officers’ safety.”

After the training exercise was over, county employees met with sheriff’s officials to discuss what happened, ways they could improve and how much they valued the exercise.

Futrell said he hoped it gave them some insight. But it also helped the sheriff’s office SWAT team as well, whose members took the events just as seriously.

“This is also an opportunity for us to get training,” he said.

A PLAN AND REMAINING AWARE

Assistant County Manager Ron Hunt said the sheriff’s office and Bilderback have worked hard over the past few months to begin training county government staff on awareness, preparedness and response.

“Wednesday’s active shooter drills at two of our county government sites provides valuable training for our staff and it is a harsh reminder that we must be vigilant each day,” Hunt said.

County Manger Denise Stinagle agreed.

“Staff safety and citizen safety are extremely important to us throughout our work day in county government,” Stinagle said. “Wednesday’s drills are a reminder of the risks we face and the importance of having a plan and remaining aware at all times. We appreciate our sheriff’s department’s coordination and out staff for wanting to learn our vulnerabilities and improve.”

olivia@wilsontimes.com | 265-7879

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