N.C First Responders Test School Shooting Response Readiness
The Free Press, Kinston, N.C.
March 29—The loud pops and bangs of simulated ammunition and blank rounds could be heard across Contentnea-Savannah School Thursday morning as the school hosted a pair of school shooter simulation exercises.
Thursday was a teacher workday for Lenoir County Public Schools. No students were in the building, leaving it open to be used as a training facility for the day.
In one wing of the school Lenoir County Sheriff's Deputies, Kinston Police Officers, Highway Patrolmen, corporate police officers and Lenoir County Emergency Services personnel practiced responding to a possible shooter, from getting a 911 call to arriving at a school to check classrooms and confronting a shooter.
In the other wing, roughly 140 teachers, principals and district officials for Lenoir County Public Schools, as well as administrators for Bethel Christian Academy and Arendell Parrott Academy practiced responding to a shooting in the classroom or on the playground.
"We are doing training based on developing situational reaction. Our training is to do one thing, but maybe that one thing is not the best thing to do in that situation, so we are exploring different things," said LCPS spokesman Patrick Holmes.
Led by Maj. Ryan Dawson of the LCSO, teachers gathered in classrooms, school media center or on the playground completed a series of scenarios. Each began with an unexpected gunshot using blank ammunition in the school hallway or by the playground and had periodic follow-up shots as Dawson made his way through the school.
How groups reacted to the shots, from barricading a classroom door and turning off the lights to scattering for cover outside varied based on group and location.
Thursday's exercise was originally meant to be a tabletop exercise, where teachers, law enforcement officers and administrators worked through a shooting scenario from the top-down perspective.
After a school shooting at a Florida high school left 17 people dead, Dawson said the plan changed.
"We felt like the tabletop is fantastic for mentally planning, but if we can get more teachers in a room critically thinking like they teach students to critically think—we put them in the scenario where they've got to make a decision, make a decision, make a decision—that will stick with them a little bit longer than just the few people we can get to a tabletop," he said.
While getting hands-on helps better identify what works and doesn't work in a shooter scenario, the thing that really sold the exercise for Kendra Woods, principal at Northeast Elementary School, was the sound.
"That (gunshot) echo, hearing that, it puts lives right at the forefront of your mind," she said.
"I think it's a necessary thing. They need to hear what that sounds like," Dawson said. "Some people one might not have heard gunshots before, but two they definitely haven't heard a gunshot inside our schools. The sound of a gunshot can travel, echo and do different things and distort where it goes. We want them to hear it in the schools and know what it sounds like and respond quickly to it."
While there has never been a shooting inside a Lenoir County School, drills like those held on Thursday are still held every few years. Dawson said the Sherriff's Office tries for at least one tabletop exercise each school year as well.
The state requires schools to do two lockdown drills each year with students. No officers or fake bullets are used in those drills.
Two years ago, South Lenoir High School hosted a similar shooting drill that combined the classroom and police response into one exercise.
Last week, the department did a slightly different shooter drill at Arendell Parrott Academy.
Headmaster Bert Bright said the two demonstrations have proven valuable for him and his school.
"I think that instead of having a static plan we are moving toward responding to what is actually happening," he said. "It definitely made our communication much better."
Bethel Christian Academy Principal Doug Phillips said he wants to focus more on what can be done to prevent a school shooter from entering a school or a classroom.
"We've got to do something before they can hurt even one student," he said.