It’s every community’s worse nightmare: the explosion of violence at a local school, and lives tragically lost.
The sometimes tense situation at Edgewater High School on Thursday was not an actual explosion of violence, but a large-scale training exercise. The two “students” lying on the floor had not been shot, and neither had the officer playing the role of the gunman.
What it did provide, though, was an effort by the city of Orlando Police and Fire Departments to run through these response exercises in real time, where they react to gunmen breaking into a local school.
“It’s going to get loud,” said Sgt. Lovetta Quinn-Henry, who handles media relations for the Orlando Police Department. That was from the sounds of fake gunshots, both from the gunman and the responding officers.
“We’re going to follow the players through the building, and then the action starts,” Quinn-Henry said.
At the start of the exercise, known as School Safety & Tactical Operations Training, a gunman shoots two students entering the main lobby of Edgewater High, as they head for the administrative offices. The students drop to the floor, and moments later the gunman is also shot, this time by OPD officers. The three “bodies” remain on the floor as a SWAT team arrives and officers cautiously move through the building searching for other gunmen.
“He eliminated the threat, and now he has two victims who need medical attention,” said David Arnott, special assistant to Mayor Buddy Dyer and director of operations at Florida SWAT. “It seems like a long time, but it’s been less than a minute, and other units have been deployed here.”
The training exercise was done in conjunction with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Winter Park and Kissimmee Police Departments, and the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
The four-hour long exercise was designed to demonstrate how each agency works collaboratively during large scale incidents and crisis situations. Orlando Police Chief John Mina, City Commissioner Robert Stuart and Edgewater High teachers, administrators and school resource officers were on hand to watch the exercise.
They all quietly observed as four members of the SWAT team moved cautiously down the hall of Edgewater High, guns in hand.
“They’re now checking to see if there are other bad guys there,” Arnott said.
Quinn-Henry directed the members of the news media to the side, noting “Your next search team is coming this way,” as five more officers moved in.
The training exercise was also done in conjunction with the Orange County Public Schools. Kathy Marsh, director of the public relations department for OCPS, noted that if a tragic incident occurs, the school has a crucial role to play as well. Teachers are likewise trained on what to do if someone with a weapon comes to a school.
“We were in lockdown within seconds,” Marsh said. “Once the students were shot, we were in lockdown. The kids are in lockdown, and it’s dependent on the teachers to put signs in the windows that say ‘All accounted for.’ ”
As part of the exercise, emergency medical teams removed the bodies of the fallen students and carried them outside in body bags to a waiting ambulance, as officers continued their search of the building.
“In reality,” Quinn-Henry noted, “it goes so much faster.”
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