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Preparedness stressed in active shooter training exercise at West Forsyth High

POSTED: February 22, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Micah Green/

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Less than five minutes after the 911 call, deputies arrived at West Forsyth High School, sirens blaring and lights flashing.

Some entered on the first floor while others ran up to the school’s second level, all with the same goal in mind: find the shooters and keep students, teachers, administrators and deputies safe.

The active shooter training drill — a situation emergency personnel practiced Tuesday but hope to never have to respond to — was put on by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, the fire department, the Forsyth County Board of Education, the Department of School Safety and other county groups.

The training exercise included two actors posing as active shooters and about 200 students and adults playing various roles in the exercise.

“This is a full-scale scenario,” Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman said. “We [had] almost 100 law enforcement and fire department officers and this is how we test ourselves because we’ll go back after the action and we’ll break down everything that we did here and we’ll make sure that if there are changes we need to put in place, we put those in place so that we’re prepared.

“I really wish we lived in a society where we didn’t have to do this training, but it’s all in due diligence that we have to do [it] and make sure we’re prepared, should the worst happen.”

According to data from the FBI, of 160 identified active shooter incidents in the United States from 2000-2013, 24.4 percent of shootings were at educational facilities, making schools the second largest location grouping.

Of that number, about 70 percent were at primary or secondary schools — grades pre-K through 12.

Two of the largest mass-killings in the nation’s history have been at schools, making training exercises like Tuesday’s necessary, Freeman said.

In April 2007, 32 people died in the Virginia Polytechnic Institute massacre at the hands of a college senior in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Five years later, in December 2012, a 20-year-old murdered 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, before taking his own life. Of the victims, 20 were aged 6 or 7.

Heather Gordy, West’s principal, said despite knowing the exercise was a training scenario, it was nerve-wracking.

“It made me very tense because you were like, ‘What’s going to happen?’” she said. “We didn’t really have any information about what was going to take place; we were supposed to simulate as much as possible what a regular day would look like, minus all of our kids.”

Forsyth County Schools was out Tuesday for a professional development day.

“I was nervous about it because it’s hard to act when you don’t know what to expect, but when I got the word on the radio that someone was down, we all just sort of kicked in and did what we were supposed to do,” Gordy said.

Ashley Trevino, a junior at West, said she felt her peers also did what they were supposed to.

“You had to really try to immerse yourself into [your] role,” she said, “and try to give the police and everyone else the most immersive experience to help them train. I was the second quickest [group] to be reached by the shooter, and I saw two of my friends get ‘killed’ in front of me.

“It opens your eyes a bit and you realize that you’re not always prepared for the situation, that you’re not always going to be a hero [and] that some things happen and you can’t control them.”

“We were very well informed,” said Kathryn Bauer, a freshman at the school. “They had told us what path [the shooter] was taking in the school and all of that, so we knew what was happening, but there were spontaneous things like teachers pulling us into classrooms to protect us that we didn’t anticipate.”

Fifteen-year-old Caleb Hall said he thinks exercises like Tuesday’s are important for the county.

“It’s a good drill to help the officers know what to do in scenarios, especially like this,” he said. “They were really prepared — they came in like three minutes after the alarm went off, and they just stormed in there and made sure everyone was OK, told people what to do … they were really good.

“Maybe they should have more drills like this.”

 

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