“Someone is in our school. I think there are two. They are shooting. Please help us!” cried Georgia Nichols, Windham Elementary School secretary as she frantically requested help from a 9-1-1 operator. It was all part of an active shooter exercise Daleville police leaders held to better train and evaluate its officers and their response to a shooting crisis. “Be prepared for the worst and praying for the best,” said Daleville Public Safety Director Harvey Mathis. “With recent school shootings on campuses, our citizens need to know we are ready to respond and will do what needs to be done to protect them.” This is the third such drill for the police department, but only the second time the drill has involved the schools. In previous exercises the department drilled at the high school and with the Army at Cairns Field.
Only a select few in the department and schools knew about the exercise. Mathis said, “They are summoned on the radio as if it is actually occurring. En route to the school we announce it is an exercise, so as not to cause a traffic accident. We are wanting the officers to have full familiarity with the layout of the schools if an emergency should occur. It does give the officers more familiarity with the school layout. While they have walked through the school many times, this time it is under duress, where you know someone is out there trying to engage you with submunition fire. Finding the active shooters in a quick manner, in an expedient manner, is required so wounded student role players can be evacuated.”Once emergency responders arrived at the school they were met with frantic students exiting the building and the sound of rapid gunfire from unknown areas of the school. The halls were already littered with “injured” students. The air was thick with the smell of gun powder, screams for help, and even more sounds of active gunfire. There was no way for an observer to know if the shots were from the “shooters” or the police officers and anyone hit by the fake ammunition was immediately in pain. In fact, blood was drawn on more than one officer, the shooters, as well as some observers. One “injured student” lying in the hallway when a gunfire exchange occurred was inadvertently grazed by a bullet, but was otherwise unharmed.The role playing students from the high school’s JROTC program were excited to help the department with the exercise both at the high school a week earlier and the elementary school drill. JROTC Army Instructor retired CW4 Joe Guthrie said his students were excited to participate.“The loved it. They were acting like scared, injured and dead students. Some students were hiding in the classrooms. As the police cleared the classrooms, they interrogated them and then took them into custody just like they would in a real world situation,” he said, adding that this type of experience “gives the students identity with the police officers” and lets the “kids know the police officers are good guys” and the police officers see that the “students are good kids.”Students Anna Deras, Mersedes McDaniel and Alyssa Aquino played different roles in one of the school drills and all agreed that it was scary even though they knew it was not real. Deras said she hid inside a large podium inside a classroom during the “shooting” and was worried as things began because she was not quite ready. McDaniel said her role was to be a dead student and that when the shooters and the police were running past her it was “scary, shocking, but cool at the same time.” Aquino said he played a runner and had to call 9-1-1. “I was nervous the whole time. I was thinking ‘oh my gosh’ and I was running with my phone in my hands and calling, calling, calling,” Aquino said.The department is now evaluating the response to the exercise so that areas for improvement can be identified and fixed, said Lt. Stacey Austin who was instrumental in organizing, setting up and directing the exercise.No other agencies besides Daleville Public Safety were involved because if there were a real shooting incident at the schools “our officers would be the first to respond, and by the time other agencies did assist, it would most likely be over,” Mathis explained. “I always say training is where we can afford mistakes. In an actual emergency we need to be mistake fee. A few months down the road we will do it all again with different circumstances.”
Windham Elementary School Secretary Georgia Nichols took cover behind her desk as she made a frantic 9-1-1 call reporting active shooters in the school. It was part of the active shooter drill conducted by the Daleville Police Department last week. The call was made as “real” and the dispatcher had no way of knowing otherwise. It was done that way to elicit a true response from dispatchers all the way to the police officers who responded to the urgent call.