Emergency responders, law officers plan shooting simulation at Vermillion school

Emergency responders, law officers plan shooting simulation at Vermillion school
Local law enforcement and emergency responders have, for months now, been planning an emergency drill that in many ways will be eerily similar to the recent Virginia Tech school shootings.

"We're going to do an active shooter drill in the high school this summer," said Layne Stewart, Clay County emergency management director. "It's one of those things that we began talking about nearly a year ago, and now, after Virginia Tech, we want to make sure that information about the drill got out ahead of time and that nobody in the community would panic about why were doing it."

The drill, which will take place in Vermillion High School on June 8 when the building is empty this summer, will involve approximately 50 volunteer actors.

Local law enforcement and emergency personnel began making plans in the fall of 2006 for the drill.

"Rather ironically, we had meetings scheduled for the afternoon that the Virginia Tech shootings occurred," Stewart said.

Sergeant Shawn Fick of the Vermillion Police Department said most of the streets around the school will be blocked during the exercise.

"We're going to play this through as if it were a real situation," he said. "We've actually done active shooting training for the past four years; we've just never done it to this level."

The June 8 simulation will involve more than just local law enforcement. Staff of the emergency room at Sanford Vermillion Hospital will also participate.

Other agencies, such as the Vermillion Fire Department, the local ambulance service will also be involved. Planners of the event also are hoping that troopers from the South Dakota Highway Patrol also will be able to participate.

Fick said students will be involved as volunteer "victims" only if they choose to be. Other individuals from the community will also be recruited as volunteer actors.

Fick said the exact details of the drill have yet to be determined.

"But the situation, generally speaking, will be that there will be at least one active shooter within the school," he said, "and officers will be dispatched there to handle the situation."

City, county and university law enforcement don't employ S.W.A.T. teams, and nothing similar to that will be part of the June 8 exercise.

"Following Columbine, one of the biggest criticisms of law enforcement was they surrounded the school, there were officers there with guns, and they didn't go in," Fick said. "They could hear shots being fired and they could hear screaming, but they didn't go in.

"One of the largest, most important lessons learned from that is that as soon as officers are at the scene, and you need a minimum number � of four or five � as soon they get at the scene, they try to go in and take care of the situation," Fick said. "They don't wait for S.W.A.T."

There will be at least one individual inside the school acting as a gunman, the officers said.

"We won't have any live fire exercises," Fick said. "In the past, we've used what are called 'simunitions,' which are paint ball guns."

Because of the complexity of the event and the number of people involved, red and blue paint ball guns will be used.

"There will be no ammunition at the school whatsoever," Fick said. "The officer teams will go in, they'll be able to determine because of noise and other factors where the suspect or suspects are at, and they'll go in and there job will be to eliminate the threat."

"One thing that we learn from doing something like this is we learn how to work with different agencies," said Sergeant Dallas Schnack of the Clay County Sheriff's Department. "The big role out of this communication � how well law enforcements' tactics and school policy work together, and we'll be able to communicate on this better afterwards."

Topics of discussion after the drill may range from communication to dealing with traffic.

"We'll need to address how to get parents to the school � that sort of thing," he said, "and basically the logistics of

following through the policies we have in place."

The exercise may also help identifies areas of school policy that need to be changed.

"The current policy may state that parents can pick their kids up in a certain area, and we may discover it's just not possible," Schnack

said, "so that policy will have to change."

"The whole idea of exercising is to practice the plans," Stewart said, "to make sure the plans are workable, that there aren't any modifications that need to be changed in the plan."

"Even in the last six months that we've been planning this, we've discovered that some of our tactics and procedures just weren't going to work," Fick said. "so they've been tested and adapted."

The knowledge gained following the drill won't be limited simply to school scenarios, he added.

"Although we're practicing for an active shooter at the high school, these tactics and skills could be used at a place of business, at the university � any number of things."

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