When the sound of gunfire from an upstairs classroom first shattered the calm Thursday afternoon at Brunswick High, the schools police officer on campus knew immediately that the problem was his alone to handle.
No cavalry arriving in support, no commander to call for instruction. Just a lone officer, depending on his training.
Panicked students ran past the officer as he made his way upstairs to the source of the shooting. The officer encountered wounded students as he closed in on the threat. Finally, moments later, the officer confronted the shooter and took him down. Threat ended.
In short, Thursday’s active-shooter training session for members of the Glynn County Schools Police Department was about preparing oneself to be a hero. Of course, no officer would put it that way.
“This intent of the drill was a single officer’s response to such a scenario,” said Schools Police Chief Rod Ellis. “They’re not going to wait for backup, they’re going to immediately respond to threats on our campuses. The time frame between knowing there is a threat and responding to that threat is so vital.”
The live drill was part of a day-long training session for 23 of the department’s schools police officers. Sgt. Paula Henderson took part in the drill in the “mini-911 center” at the department’s command center at the Golden Isles Career Academy, Ellis said. The officers spent the first part of the day in classrooms at the BHS campus, then each went through the live drill to reinforce what they learned.
The scenario was made more realistic by the participation of about two dozen drama students from Brunswick High and Glynn Academy. The students played the roles of panicked students, wounded students and even the active shooter. BHS teachers also participated, Ellis said.
Each officer went through the drill, beginning with the noise of gunfire. The officer had to advance through the wave of retreating students and “wounded” students in order to reach the shooter. Department instructors followed each officer as an observer only.
Chief Ellis, Lt. Jody Vicent and officer Mark Hopper all have training in active shooter instruction from the nearby Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Each officer completed the drill in about three minutes, Ellis said.
“There is a simulated shooting in an upstairs classroom,” Ellis said. “The officer has to seek out and find, on their own and without anybody coaching them, the source. The instructors are there only to evaluate their performance.”
It is a scenario Ellis hopes none of his officers ever have to face in real life. But it also is one they cannot possibly prepare for too much.
“When we spring into action we’re going to be looking to neutralize that threat as rapidly as possible if it occurs,” Ellis said. “You’ve got to engage them quickly. The longer you wait, the more people are in danger of being injured or dying.”
The drama students’ participation added to the immediacy of the drill for the officers, he said. The goal is that officers will not have to think about what do in a real life situation — they will know what to do.
“Those students were role playing, putting as much stress as possible on my officers,” Ellis said. “It gave them an idea of what’s going to happen in a real event. Because when that stress level is there, when it’s real, the first thing we want them to do is fall back instinctively on their training. And we want that response to become automatic.”
Ellis was pleased with the performance of his officers Thursday.
“I think they did well,” he said. “Obviously, we want to do it and do it and do it until it becomes second nature. Overall, from what I saw, they did well. Everybody passed successfully.”