School-based emergency drill declared a success
On June 4, the Ocean View Police Department, along with other Delaware state emergency agencies, participated in Operation School Plan Emergency Action Response (Operation SPEAR).
“Our goal is to be prepared, not just for a shooting incident, but any type of mass casualty incident,” explained OVPD Chief Ken McLaughlin. “It could be a large-scale motor-vehicle collision. It could be an active shooter. It could be a weather event.”
Approximately 35 kids from Ocean View Boy Scout Troop 281 participated as “students” in the exercise. Many of those participating had “moulage,” special-effects makeup, put on to simulate actual wounds. Participants each wore a nametag that listed their age and ersatz injury.
Officials tried to make the drill as realistic as possible, to keep all involved on their toes and in the situation, as if it were an actual emergency.
“We go to great pains to make it as realistic as possible,” explained McLaughlin. “But you can only do so much. In the scenario we had today, we had patients with simulated injuries. We had actual blank weapons being fired in the school, to simulate gunfire. So we try to make it as real as possible. But, at the end of the day, everyone is informed that it is a drill, and we try to do the best that we can to make it as realistic as we can.”
Around 9:30 a.m., an “armed shooter” entered Lord Baltimore Elementary School and began shooting. Within minutes, an OVPD officer was on the scene. Shortly after that, a number of young boys – including one who was “shot” in the leg – ran out of the building, yelling, ‘This guy is shooting at us!’”
Officer Justin Norman told the boys to hide behind his vehicle and got a description of the shooter from the kids. He then entered the building, completely geared up.
Other officials did the same upon arrival, with a number of students trickling out, while the “shooter” was still active. Approximately 15 officers were on the scene from five different policing agencies, including the Delaware State Police and neighboring departments.
“This is really a good example of how many agencies come together,” said Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) Public Information Officer Rosanne Pack. DEMA was one agency that helped sponsor the drill.
While officers were inside the building, emergency medical service technicians arrived on the scene to help tend to the “wounded.” A number of stations were set up to evaluate and aid the students.
“From my perspective, things went well today. One of our priorities was to neutralize the threat — that was done rather quickly. The officers responding in were not aware of what type of threat they would be greeted with. They acted appropriately,” said McLaughlin.
He noted that that the top priority for the police in such a situation is to identify, locate and either contain or neutralize the shooter. Officers were able to do so in a matter of minutes. The OVPD had hosted training in active shooter situations several years ago, after McLaughlin had received his own specialized training in response to such incidents, so they were already prepared to respond.
Once the “shooter” was neutralized, the EMS team entered the building and began to tend to the wounded. Medics used real, but expired, supplies to aid the injured; however, there were some “casualties.”
“All in all, this is a learning experience for all of us,” said Sussex County Emergency Medical Services Special Operations Coordinator Eric Huovinen. “There’s always room for improvement.”
Operation SPEAR PIO Bob Powell noted that Lord Baltimore Elementary School has a high-tech camera system installed, so that police are able to monitor and view 360degrees of all classrooms and in other areas, such as the library and cafeteria.
He also said that, in the event of an actual shooting, the school would go into “lockdown.” Teachers would be instructed to quickly remove any students from the hallways, lock their doors and keep students away from doors and windows, while being as quiet as possible.
Following the drill, an after-action report was conducted with all agencies involved.
“It’s a learning experience, and we’ll learn what went wrong and, hopefully, we won’t make those mistakes again,” said OVPD Patrolman and SPEAR Director Russell Carter. “That’s the important thing — that’s what we’re trying to do.”
“It’s one thing to have an emergency response plan, but seeing it through to this level of implementation takes effective leadership, hard work and tenacity,” wrote John R. Sadowski of the Delaware Department of Education in a letter to OVPD. “Your plan was carried out with the utmost in poise and professionalism. I am extremely confident that the Ocean View community is in good hands if an event such as this were to ever take place.”
“One of the big, big goals is to get the local emergency responders working together. We’ve never done a drill like this on this large of a scale, where we’ve had everyone here working together,” he said. “Things went better than I anticipated. I’m very pleasantly surprised.”
“Hopefully, we don’t have to respond to something like this in the future. But, if we do, we have the right people in place that have had the proper training, and things will work out well for all of us,” added Carter.