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Preparing for the worst: Deputies, police undergo school active shooter training
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Rockdale County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Jake Coggins has been through some dangerous situations throughout his career.

Fortunately, after 12-years on the force, Coggins has never had to deal with a situation involving a gunman in a school. But, should a situation like that arise, he feels as though he'll be prepared to handle the situation after participating in training scenarios designed to simulate having an active shooter in a school.

About 20 local officers gathered at Honey Creek Elementary School Wednesday afternoon to clear a hall of the school from any shooters and get the innocent civilians out of harm's way. The officers were placed into teams of five.

Coggins' team was first through the hall, which was littered with toppled trash cans, chairs, desks, screaming high school students, from the Rockdale County Sheriff Office Explorer program, lying on the floor pretending to be either shot or injured and random sounds of bullets being fired. Equipped with fake guns, simulated ammunition rounds and facemasks, the team, walking in a diamond formation with one facing the rear, began the process of sweeping the rooms and hall for any potential threats.

Being in the school and having people participating outside of law enforcement made this simulated course one of the best he's been through and right on par with a real-life situation, said Coggins, who has been through at least four different simulated scenarios.

"Our explorers are here helping us out," he said, " and the fact that they're actually screaming and hollering and grabbing at you and asking you to help, it's probably one of the realest situations that my guys and myself have ever been put in to do."

The active shooting training ended Wednesday evening. Over the course of the three-day program, an estimated 200 local officers participated in the simulated shooter scenarios.
Prior to each simulation, the officers received a classroom lecture at the Rockdale Sheriff Office South Precinct, 3552 Ga. Hwy 20, Rockdale County.

The lecture discussed proper movement techniques through a school, different ways officers should communicate with each other and the history of the active shooter incidents and the program.

Rockdale Couty Sheiff's Office Sgt. Jeremy Mote, active shooter program coordinator, said that this program is beneficial for both young and veteran officers.

"It's kind of like brushing up your tips and tactics and stuff like that," said Mote. "Veteran officers still get tunnel vision, so were making sure they break that tunnel vision. Read, give verbal commands and lead. You can't go wrong. You can only improve on what you messed up on."

This program could also help officers with the skills needed to clear other types of buildings, says Mote.

"We also want this to play into a role when it comes to clearing houses for burglaries and stuff like that," he said. "Anything can happen at any time and you got to start somewhere."

This is the second consecutive year local law enforcement participated in this three-hour active shooter program. It was implemented by Rockdale County Sheriff Eric Levett, who took over the law enforcement agency January 1, 2013.

Two reasons he wanted to make active shooter training an annual program was to help familiar officers with the layout of the various elementary, middle and high schools in the county and give Rockdale County parents a "sense of comfort" knowing that local officers are preparing to handle situations such as this one.

Working as a deputy in the Sheriff's Office 15 years ago, Levett saw firsthand what a school shooting could do to the Rockdale community when former Heritage High School student T.J. Solomon shot and injured six of classmates.

The shooting in Rockdale County happened a month after the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado.

"That's an experience that you never forget," said Levett. "Going through that incident, it has made me think differently and act differently. Now being in charge of a law enforcement agency, it's made me be more proactive about being ready and prepared for this type of incident. I can tell you that I had not received that type of training during that time. I have been through this particular training and I can tell you that it helps."