TACTICAL TRAINING Mock scenario provides chance to exercise skills, gain experience
by Jessica Loeding
Jun 24, 2011 | 4571 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bartow County Sheriff deputies enter a hallway at a multi-agency training exercise at Cass High School Thursday that included hostages and explosions. From left are Justin Guyton, Daniel Weathers, Cpl. Brian Earic and Danny Jackson.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Gunfire erupts in the stillness of Cass High School. Screams of "Help us" and "They're killing people" echo through the empty hallways.

Bartow County Sheriff's Office deputies responding to the scene approach through the front doors, guns drawn. Beginning with the library, teams of between two and six deputies perform a sweep of the school.

"We've got a hostage situation in the library" goes out over the radio.

Deputy Anthony Parker kneels behind a library table, weapon leveled on the gunman. "What's going on? What can I do for you?"

The multi-agency training scenario continues once the gunman -- a deputy in the jail -- surrenders and the victim is evacuated.

Taking the better part of four hours, representatives from the BCSO, Cartersville Police Department, city and county fire departments, Bartow County Schools police, and Emerson and Euharlee police departments participated in the mock mass-casualty scenario Thursday morning. The training, which must be completed every five years, is required for the Emergency Response Committee to maintain its status through the Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security.

Based on the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, Thursday's scene featured roughly eight gunmen, played by deputies, in various parts of the school and units from Cass and Adairsville high schools' JROTC as hostages, casualties and victims.

Coordinated by BCSO Capt. Mike Shinall, Bartow County Schools police Maj. Randall Burch and Emerson Police Chief Stan Bradley, the event took place at the new school on Colonel Way to force officers to utilize their experience.

"One of the reasons we chose that particular school is because most of those responding had never been to that building before. They had to rely on training and tactics," Bradley said.

Although the initial sweep of the school took more than an hour, BCSO Investigator Richey Harrell said in a real-life case the process would be much faster.

"The initial sweep is quick, fast and in a hurry. We've thrown in some different variables just to keep everyone on their toes," Harrell said. "The initial sweep of the building [in an actual event] is not going to take as long because they are going straight to the noise, the shooting.

"Once the shooter is dealt with, they will conduct a methodical search of the building. Every nook, cranny and crevice and everything on this building will be checked at that point."

As deputies secured the school, eliminating the threat and evacuating victims, BCSO firearms instructor and Cartersville-Bartow Drug Task Force K9 Sgt. Mark Roberts explained that in an active-shooter situation patrol officers are the first on scene.

"We don't have a full-time [Special Weapons and Tactics] team," Harrell said. "It takes time for them to deploy. Patrol officers are going to be here within minutes. SWAT is going to be here within 45 minutes."

Lt. Robert Moultrie, who heads SWAT, said his team was not being deployed Thursday, but in a live situation, SWAT would come in once the shooter was contained.

"We don't hold hands and sing 'Cumbayà,'" Moultrie said.

Although SWAT was not dispatched, the CPD tactical team asked to participate in the training for hands-on experience.

"It's a relatively new team. I'll watch how they conduct their leadership and control and movement and tactics and so on and so forth, and then debrief them later," Moultrie said.

While emergency personnel spent the day exercising their skills at Cass, Harrell said local agencies are prepared for shooting occurrences outside of a school.

"Are we prepared for that? Yes," he said. "We train primarily in the schools because it's harder to get into the businesses to do that -- you can't train in the hospital for example. The concepts, the principles, all of that is the same. The difference is we have more of a familiarization with the schools than we do with the office buildings.

"We do encourage our officers, our patrol officers, everybody to come to the school, check in at the front office and do a walk-through of the school. When they are assigned a zone, we suggest they stop in sometime during the day ... just to become familiar with the school.

The increase in the number of mass casualty shootings, such as that involving Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January, raise the chances of such an incident happening locally.

"Hopefully it's not going to happen here," Harrell said. "We've had active-shooting situations here, in the county; it's been a while. They haven't been to this magnitude. ... Hopefully it will never happen.

"That's why we train. We train so that people know that we are serious about this. All certified officers with the sheriff's office go through active-shooter training ... ."

Overall, Bradley said he felt Thursday's training exercise went smoothly.

"It went well. The clearing of the building went well, the securing of the building went well," he said. "There were some communications issues with the radios that didn't allow us to communicate with the command center. The training went really, really well, but there are always things you can improve on."