Only a drill

Published 9:01 pm Thursday, July 26, 2018

Within a matter of seconds, the sounds of a gunshot, a child crying out and the fire alarm all pierced the air at King’s Fork High School. Moments later, students came barreling through the front door of the school.

Smoke filled the hallways, but all of the chaos happening wasn’t real.

Suffolk Public Schools partnered with the Suffolk law enforcement and public safety at King’s Fork to complete an active shooter exercise on Thursday afternoon.

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The Suffolk Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and Suffolk Fire & Rescue all participated in the active shooter drill with school officials.

A different philosophy was implemented in this year’s drill.

“We’ve learned in the past to wait for the tactical team, but we were losing lives. Our new philosophy is to act immediately and handle the threat immediately,” said Capt. John McCarley. “We used to lose a lot of lives in the first hour. With this new philosophy, we will start seeing more lives saved.”

Multiple agencies participated in the drill, because there is a chance that any one of them could respond to the emergency at any time. The new philosophy can mean that only one officer is entering a situation alone, and these drills help them understand how to handle it.

“That’s why we try and run everyone through the scenario to know the decisions they might have to make,” McCarley said. “We want to get as much exposure, since you don’t know who is going to respond.”

Roughly 90 students, most King’s Fork football team members, participated as well. There were also around 10 administrators from the different schools around the city.

Someone playing the active shooter fired a blank shot, and the drill immediately started.

Teams of three or four would enter the school to handle the situation, and they tried to keep the exercise as real as possible for the sake of the officers responding.

“We do the situation as real as we can,” said Maj. James Buie. “Once the officers arrive, they react to the situation.”

Prior to entering the building, the officers don’t know any more information than they would usually get in a real-life threat.

The drill started and finished in under 30 minutes, and after finishing the drill, all those involved got the chance to talk about what happened.

“They immediately do a ‘hot wash’; talk about observations from different leaders and how to improve,” said city spokeswoman Diana Klink. “They also use videos from the media and community relations team as tactical and training footage. We are trying to have the most training as possible to protect our loved ones.”

The law enforcement drill gave the school division a new insight into an active shooter situation, and safety has been at the top of school administrators’ thoughts.

“Since February, our teachers and administration have looked at the safety plan to discuss weaknesses. We practice these situations already, and the students know what a code red is,” said school division spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw. Our administrators are observing to know how to handle a situation like this, and we are excited about the partnership with the city.”

King’s Fork was chosen because of its size and convenient location.

“It’s an opportunity to see the active shooter situation with all the nooks and crannies of the school,” said Klink.