Gainesville Daily Register

October 29, 2012

GISD 'shooter' drill helps officials hone response skills

By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
Gainesville Daily Register

Gainesville — Friday’s simulated shooting at Gainesville Independent School District’s administration building gave readiness to law enforcement and school officials.

In the case of a campus gunman, Superintendent Jeff Brasher said, the protocol might save lives.

“We’re trying to pursue that perfection, and chance favors the prepared mind,” he said Friday. “We just want our children to be safe. But it’s just like a football game: you have a much better chance of winning if you practice.”

The “active shooter” scenario, which included the simulation of casualties, was a requirement. The Texas Division of Emergency Management mandates that the city conducts a full-scale exercise every three years — and in the intervening years, law enforcement officers are required to complete workshops and functional drills.

“It builds confidence knowing that they can do their job and do it well,” Brasher said.

One purpose of the exercise is to practice effective communication among the agencies so that in the event of a real shooting, officers work in harmony as well as possible. Friday’s installment included appearances by Gainesville Police Department, Emergency Management Services and Gainesville Fire-Rescue officers.

Prior to the drill, the nearby residents of South Morris Street were notified by flier of what officers would do Friday morning. At 9:30 a.m., the city’s “code red” phone emergency alert system activated and officers arrived on scene.

Brasher said the administration building, with its medium-sized staff, was chosen for the two-hour exercise to avoid the distraction of student crowds.

“We thought with having them around, the children may not respond in a productive manner,” he said.

A key to the exercise is that it is a limited number of law enforcement personnel, with their tactical equipment, that actually enters campus. Officers carried simulated weapons made of red plastic and practiced securing and entering the school building while Gainesville ISD administration members, who portrayed victims, waited inside.

“They acted the part and some of them put on a really good show,” said Wally Cox, Gainesville Fire Department assistant chief. “They learned a lot and our people learned a lot. We also had emergency triage and the fire department participated in that.”

Brasher added that school safety is the main purpose of the simulations, but the events also reinforce bonds between the school district and local law enforcement.

“It enhances their skills and our skills,” he said. “We want to make sure our children are safe 100 percent of the time. But we’re revamping our emergency management plan, and so we’re looking to refine that, and develop those skills so that we would know how to respond and how to react. But we also wanted, through this exercise with EMS and police and fire departments, to be able to build a relationship with them, and help them to practice.”