Active shooter drills are not routine. Maybe you remember the old fire drills in which you were practicing for something that was completely foreign to you. Nowadays an active shooter situation is as close as the next town up the road, or at the very least, your TV. Make no mistake about it, the possibility is very real, and most of the teaching and administrative staff at Portsmouth Elementary School was taking a drill very seriously Thursday morning.
Why do you stage these drills with the schools? The Daily Times asked Captain Chris Lowery of the Portsmouth Fire Department.
“We don’t have a choice nowadays,” Lowery said. “We have to. We have to prepare the schools and the faculty and eventually this will be with the students.”
The students were not present on the school grounds Thursday. It appears drills including the students are in the works for the future.
When the teachers finished their breakfasts and reported to their rooms, there was a silence that fell over the building. Then, appearing in a first floor hallway was a man with a gun followed by an announcement over the public address system – “lockdown…lockdown…lockdown.” Suddenly every door slammed shut and the intruder was finding it difficult to gain entry. Despite the limited access, there were casualties.
Within minutes, help arrived. That help came in the form of members of the Portsmouth Police Department, followed by members of the Portsmouth Fire Department, putting into action their recent Tactical EMS training that sends armed firefighters into the scene to get casualties out of additional harms way and to medical attention.
“Our Tactical EMS training will be 50 percent of it (drill),” Lowery said. “You’ve got to remember, it’s not our job to take out the threat. Our tactical medics, today at least, are armed for defensive only and we’ll protect the six (backs) of the LE (Law Enforcement) officers. They’ll be in the front, leading the charge and we follow in behind them. We treat the casualties and get them out of the building.”
That is precisely what they did to Assistant Principal Josh Morris, an apparent casualty. Officers picked him up, took him to a designated area outside and treated him. Each casualty carried a card listing their injuries.
The other side of the coin is the new role police officers make to now have Tactical EMTs going into the situation with them.
“It’s an adjustment from what we’ve done in the past, but it’s a welcome adjustment,” Portsmouth Police Operations Captain Lynn Brewer said. “To realize that we can now get medical care to the scene a lot quicker, while the incident is still evolving, and begin to help people, it’s a big help.”
Watching throughout the scenario was Doug Poage, principal director of Secondary Operations with the Portsmouth City School District.
“”You want things to be reactionary should an unfortunate tragic event ever happen,” Poage said. “By going through the training more and more our people know what to do. They already know what to do but this makes it more of a reaction than it does to have to think about things.”
A similar drill was held at Portsmouth High School/Junior High School during the noon hour. A debriefing was held in each case.
Poage said the system started planning for the drills back in the spring. He said he wants to plan more such scenarios in the future.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.