Active attacker simulation

Sheldon Police Department officer Zane Roberts and Sgt. Eric Meinecke use air soft guns as they check the hallways and rooms of Sheldon Christian School during an active attacker simulation training session on Tuesday, May 2.

SHELDON—It might have been an alarming sight to drive past Sheldon Christian School at about 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 2.

Outside of the school were vehicles from the Sheldon Police Department, O’Brien County Sheriff’s Office, Sheldon Community Ambulance Team, Sheldon Fire Co. and O’Brien County Emergency Management Agency.

There also were signs posted outside of the school informing passersby of the full-scale training exercise being performed at Sheldon Christian that afternoon.

O’Brien County EMA coordinator Jared Johnson organized the training exercise involving a simulated active attacker at the school for local emergency services in Sheldon.

During the fictitious drill, law enforcement had to search the school for the attacker, stop the person and make sure the school was clear so emergency medical services personnel could tend to victims, which were played by actors, and to transport them outside for paramedic services.

There also were Sheldon Christian staffers on hand who learned how to respond to an active shooter in the vicinity.

Johnson thought the exercise went well.

“We received a variety of positive feedback from the participants,” he said. “This exercise has provided us an opportunity to practice public information and warning, operational communication, operational coordination and mass care services. It takes a large number of people to complete this type of full-scale exercise. I greatly appreciate everyone’s assistance during the planning and participation of this exercise.

“We gained valuable experience and practice during this exercise.”

O’Brien County EMA hosts a full-scale exercise once a year. South O’Brien Middle School/High School was the site of last year’s active shooter drill.

“We also normally have several tabletop discussion-based exercises each year,” Johnson said. “The full-scale exercise provides emergency responders the opportunity to practice emergency procedures and implementation of plans with multiple exercise participants.”

Sheldon police chief Scott Burtch said it is not often all emergency services can complete a training event like the one at Sheldon Christian.

“It was good to see how all agencies would respond,” he said. “It went well. You can’t account for everything, so it is nice to learn from a training event like this.”

Johnson prepped the about 30 people who were there to either play an injured or shot victim or staff who had to lead students out of the building to safety during the exercise.

He also provided materials for those participating about how to respond to a similar situation in the future.

One of the handouts was about avoid/deny/defend during an act of violence — an active shooter, hostage situation, workplace violence, hostage situation, etc.

Avoid starts with your state of mind:

  • Pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Have an exit plan.
  • Move away from the source of the threat as quickly as possible.
  • The more distance and barriers between you and the threat, the better.

Deny is when getting away is difficult or maybe even impossible:

  • Keep distance between you and the source.
  • Create barriers to prevent or slow down a threat from getting to you.
  • Turn the lights off and silence your phone.
  • Remain out of sight and quiet by hiding behind large objects.

Defend is used because you have the right to protect yourself:

  • If you cannot avoid or deny, be prepared to defend yourself.
  • Be aggressive and committed to your actions.
  • Do not fight fairly. This is about survival.

Then once you are in a safe area, call 911.

Another handout advised how to respond when an active shooter is in your vicinity and the three courses of action were run, hide and fight.

For run:

  • Have an escape route and plan in mind.
  • Leave your belongings behind.
  • Keep your hands visible.

For hide:

  • Hide in an area out of the active shooter’s view.
  • Block entry to your hiding place and lock the doors.

For fight:

  • Use fight as a last resort and only when your life is in imminent danger.
  • Attempt to incapacitate the active shooter.
  • Act with physical aggression and throw items at the active shooter.

“I do believe that active attacker awareness and planning is important,” Johnson said. “It is important to have situational awareness at work, at home and on trips. Having the knowledge over what to do in an emergency situation is important. There are a variety of different classes that teach different steps in response to an active attacker threat.”

After Johnson prepped the participants, they went to different rooms to hide or took their spots as victims.

Once they were ready, an actor in a mask and jacket armed with two Nerf guns ran through Sheldon Christian, stopping in different rooms before making his way downstairs to the music room.

Then two minutes and 20 seconds later, Sheldon Police Department officers Eric Meinecke and Zane Roberts entered to search for the active shooter actor. They soon were joined by Burtch and deputy Dan Bracy of the O’Brien County Sheriff’s Office.

Unlike the active shooter, the officers were armed with airsoft guns. After working their way through the school and toward the stairs to the music room, the active shooter emerged from the hallway and was shot and apprehended by Meinecke and Roberts.

The officers then checked the lower level and once they were up, informed SCAT of the victims who needed medical attention. Several SCAT personnel were on-hand to provide medical services in the school and on school grounds. Some participants were carried out of the school by firefighters and EMTs and loaded the ambulances outside as they were transported to Sanford Sheldon Medical Center.

SCAT director Krysten Haan thought the exercise went well.

“We had excellent teamwork throughout the training among all emergency services departments,” she said. “These trainings give us a chance to see where improvements can be made but also a chance to utilize skills we hope to have use in this manner. This type of training is vitally important to train for often whether it is tabletop, small group or mass event training like this was.

“It is better to be overly prepared for something that may never happen rather than under prepared for something when it does happen.”

The active shooter drill was completed after about an hour.