Active shooter training tests agency proficiency, cooperation

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MOSES LAKE — Around 6 p.m. Thursday, shots rang out dully from inside the Job Corps gym. Students flooded out from the emergency exits, scrambling around each other. A siren went off and the loudspeakers announced that an active shooter was on campus.

A hundred feet away, a dozen nonplussed women played a practice baseball game, not looking up at the sounds coming from the nearby building as students ran off campus. They knew it was all just a scheduled training session, and all the weapons were pellet guns.

A masked man with a semi-automatic rifle walked out of the gym, flanked on all sides by men in yellow vests. The shooter walked across the courtyard toward another building, discharging his gun several times along the way. A woman in his path lay on the concrete, red makeup smeared across her face and neck. She was dead, although she occasionally looked up and asked wryly if she could get up off the floor.

Across the courtyard, the shooter approached a dorm building, banging on windows along the way, trying various locked doors. He made his way to the front doors, which were made out of glass, and simulates breaking in with a master key provided to him for just this purpose. After considering where best to ambush law enforcement, he made his way upstairs.

When police and deputies arrived, first one or two at a time and then by the dozen, the campus was silent — a fog of war has descended.

“I’d almost rather arrive to gunshots than silence,” one supervisor in a yellow vest mused to another.

Officers poured into the gym, weapons drawn, to secure the building. They didn’t know where the shooter was, and they didn’t know if there was more than one.

Eventually, one sheriff’s deputy in a yellow vest simulated a commotion by chucking a handful of flash grenades into the air near the dorm. A pair of deputies rush across the courtyard toward the noise.

They made for the dorm entrance, but the shooter was lurking in the shadows of an overlooking stairwell; pellets flew out the door, hitting the deputy in front. It was impossible to gauge the damage that might have been done by live ammo, and the deputies pushed forward, chasing the shooter up the stairwell. A flurry of gunshots rang out, and then silence. The suspect neutralized, one deputy rushed out the door to flag others, and when none come, a supervisor told him to run and get back-up.

At this point, first responders flooded the scene, scrambling to find every student smeared with red makeup. Some students are smiling as they were wheeled out on gurneys, while others got into their roles, pretending they were unable to walk without assistance. The paramedics had to cut through the confusion, and the red makeup helped them to identify the students’ pre-assigned injuries.

Some, including the woman near the courtyard, were beyond medical help, and were left where they lay for investigators to document their death. Tension quickly waned as agencies moved into the mop up phase. One man had caused several casualties, but he had been taken down, the campus had been secured, and the injured were getting support.

This was the second such annual exercise that Job Corps has conducted, providing an opportunity for a number of different agencies to be put through the wringer with little information, under the worst of circumstances. The Moses Lake Police Department, Grant County Sheriff’s Office, Washington State Patrol, private ambulance service American Medical Response, Grant County Fire District No. 5 and Multi Agency Communications Center all took part in the exercise.

“Everyone can recall participating in school fire drills while growing up,” said Grant County Sheriff’s spokesperson Kyle Foreman. “In 1958, 93 people, including 90 children, died as the result of a fire at Our Lady of Angels School in Chicago, Illinois. Since then, states have enacted requirements for conducting school fire drills. Since 1958 and due to practicing fire drills, no children have died in any U.S. school facility fire.”

“Planning and training for active shooters and other human threats is done with the same goal: reduce injuries and deaths through practice and preparation.”

Local public safety agencies can, upon request, assist other entities with their training exercises. Entities interested in coordinating with public safety agencies can contact the Grant County Sheriff’s Emergency Management Division at 509-754-2011. The Emergency Management Division can help gather together stakeholders and guide entities on how to conduct such exercises.

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