PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — It’s training they hope they’ll never use. Wednesday, law enforcement and EMS members from across Pinellas County participated in a realistic mass shooting drill at an elementary school.
They want parents to know that they’re prepared.
The training was made to look and feel as real as possible to test how teachers, officers and medics would react to an active gunman on a school campus.
“We want to get it right, we want to be 110% and we want the public to know we are making every effort to do that,” explained Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
In the training scenario, a woman entered an elementary school in Clearwater armed with a hidden gun and ready to confront her husband, a teacher, who she suspects of being unfaithful.
School leaders immediately do the right thing and confront her while directing her to the front office of the school. For the purpose of the training, she keeps moving through the school as an overhead public announcement is played throughout the campus saying “Attention, attention. There is an active threat on campus. Law enforcement has been notified. Access your situation and take appropriate actions to keep yourself and your students safe.”
First, the mock gunman found and confronted her supposed husband, shooting him. Then, as part of the training simulation, she made her way through the school shooting other mock students and staff.
She also tested the students and staff to see how they react by trying to get into locked classrooms. She was not allowed in. At one point, the female mock gunman removed a grey hoodie she was wearing to try to throw off law enforcement.
Within minutes, the law enforcement officers find the woman in a mobile classroom and stop the threat.
“One suspect down,” they said over the radio in the training drill.
After a search for other mock gunmen, medics were allowed into the school to start helping those who were allegedly injured or pseudo-killed in the drill.
The drill is meant to test responses and find errors but most importantly, the Pinellas County Sheriff says, to hammer down the need to act fast and stop the threat.
“If the bullets have been flying and there are people in there injured by those bullets and they have life-threatening injuries, you need to go,” he reiterated.
They’re trainings they hope they’ll never need but know could save lives when it matters most.
“These types of situations we all fear them, we don’t want to see them in Pinellas County Schools but we must be prepared,” added Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Kevin Hendrick.
Earlier this year, state leaders passed a bill requiring all school districts to have plans to reunify parents with their children after an emergency. Pinellas County School District leaders were also able to test how that situation would play out on Wednesday.
Over the next few weeks, assessment teams will meet to talk about what went well and what areas need improvement. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department hopes to make the large response, multi-agency active shooter drills more routine to ensure every deputy and officer is ready, if need be. “If you’re not testing yourself or what you’ve put in place you’re not there because you need the assurances that it works,” Sheriff Gualtieri added.
Superintendent Hendrick says news of mass shootings is upsetting but the drills give him some relief to know his staff would be ready to react at a moment’s notice if any danger arrived. “After news of mass shootings, you’re sickened. You’re mad. You’re angry. You say how can this happen? Today it wasn’t like that because we are doing something to prevent those things, we’re doing something to mitigate those things,” he explained.