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Preparing for the worst: Active shooter trainings held

Gunfire echoed in the school hallways over winter break. 

The muffled voices of students cut through the blaring alarms as teams of officers made their way down the half-lit corridors. “Help me! He’s got a gun!” 

Others students ran past the teams trying to escape the  “shooter.”

Ordinarily, this would be a parent’s worst nightmare, and one that’s become all too familiar in the headlines. But this time, it was all part of the live trainings designed to prepare deputies and officers for a worst case scenario.

Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Conyers Police Department officers took advantage of the school system’s week-long winter break to conduct “active shooter” trainings in school hallways and classrooms. 

RCSO held trainings at Davis Middle on Tuesday while CPD conducted trainings at Rockdale County High School Monday to Thursday.

The trainings were designed to simulate a live “active shooter” scenario, complete with planted, but fake, explosives, a hostage situation and paint-filled bullets. Officers and deputies were put to the test as they had to make split-second decisions and work together.

“We try to make it more realistic,” said CPD Sgt. Jay Archer, who heads training for the department. “The power might be cut off, the fire alarms are going to be going off.” The students, mostly from the CPD’s Explorers unit for high schoolers, played the role of panicked students.

“The big thing is communication. They’ve got to communicate with each other about what’s going on, what’s going to happen... These are the sort of things we work with to make our jobs more realistic,” said Archer.

One of the things that has changed since the Sandy Hook shooting massacre that left 20 children and six adults dead last December is that law enforcement are advised to respond immediately instead of waiting until two more officers arrive, said Archer. The thinking changed once it became clear those crucial minutes can cost many lives.

Earlier in the week, more than 40 deputies and investigators in various divisions of the RCSO participated in the training at Davis Middle.

The first portion of the training included a presentation by Special Agent in Charge Wayne Smith with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The presentation gave an overview of mass shootings and covered case studies of historical incidents including several school shootings. Following the presentation, deputies ran through tactical drills inside the hallways and classrooms of the school to simulate various active shooter scenarios.

“This was a great opportunity for us to focus on the safety of Rockdale County students and teachers in the event of a school shooting,” said Sheriff Eric Levett. “We hope that we never have to use this sort of training, but we are going to ensure that our deputies have the knowledge and tactical skills to respond to a worst case scenario.”

School administrators were also invited to observe the trainings. 

Rockdale Career Academy CEO Dr. Miki Edwards attended the CPD training on Monday. She said, “What was great for me was to be able to stand and watch from a distance. It gave me a different perspective on what our response could look like.”

“Public safety is going in with the mindset of taking care of the eminent danger.” Administrators have the complicated task of safely evacuating students, accounting for students and contacting families, while dealing with the emotional toll of seeing students hurt or in danger.

“It opens your eyes so you can see what some of the other possibilities.”

Rockdale County Public Schools normally conducts internal safety reviews in January, said RCPS spokesperson Cindy Ball. But this year, the state Department of Education has also been sending its own safety inspection teams.

“This year, we are using the services of the Georgia Department of Education to perform safety assessments for each school site and provide a written report complete with recommendations for improvement. These began late January and run into about the second week of March to complete all campuses,” said Ball.