The distant pop-pop of gunfire coming from the Coastal Pines Technical College building Friday morning was quickly drowned out by the whine of squad car sirens as Glynn County Police rushed to the scene.
The sound of gunfire could be heard again shortly afterward as the first responding police officers entered the building in precise tactical formation, guns drawn. Moments later, those officers held a big man in handcuffs beside a “dead” woman on the building’s second floor hallway, several spent shotgun shells scattered around them.
But chaos and uncertainty still dominated the situation, as bloody, wounded victims cried for help, panicked students cowered in hiding and the threat of additional shooters remained a possibility.
Friday’s active shooter drill at the Coastal Pines campus at 3700 Glynco Parkway was designed to give local law enforcement and public safety officials some hands-on training in dealing with this all-too-common American tragedy. Headed by the county Emergency Management Agency, the drill involved county police, Brunswick Police, the county and city fire departments, the Glynn-Brunswick 911 Center and police from the Coastal Pines and College of Coastal Georgia campuses. Students and teachers from the college played the roles of victims and those caught in the crossfire.
“This is being held to test us in a real world active shooter tragedy,” said county specialist Alec Eaton. “To get an understanding of what is to deal with all of our agencies working and coming together in a life-and-death emergency like this. It’s about eliminating the threat, yes, but it is also about treating the victims and reaching the survivors. We’re asking, ‘What does it look like after?’”
In Friday’s scenario, those police officers who first entered the building got a quick lesson on expecting the unexpected.
The “dead” woman on the second floor turned out to be the actual shooter, armed with a shotgun. She wounded four and killed one, according to the scenario, before a man in the building who was legally carrying a concealed weapon shot her. For safety purposes, police who later encountered the man placed him in handcuffs until order was restored.
A second team of police officers entered the building shortly afterward. First they cleared the first-floor bathrooms and other concealed areas. “Is it secure enough to get EMS in here?” Eaton, acting as an observer, asked one of the officers.
“I wouldn’t want them coming in yet,” he told Eaton.
Then the team methodically worked their way up the stairs to check on reports of noises of distress coming from the library.
“We won’t do any good if we make more victims,” Eaton explains. “We’re not going to put our EMS folks in harm’s way.”
Within a couple of minutes, that team of police officers exited a far stairwell into the first floor and returned to the front entrance, completing a sweep of the building.
“Help!” a woman’s voice cried from the top of the floor.
“The library’s cleared, and we’ve got multiple victims up there,” the officer said over his radio. “Send in the EMS.”
EMS workers followed a police escort back up the stairs to begin treating victims.
“We want to be prepared, and all working from the same page, if the unthinkable happens here in Glynn County,” Eaton said.