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By Jess Macinko
News Editor 

School joins in active shooter exercise scenarios

 

Jess Macinko

ACTIVE SHOOTER EXERCISE: Tom Fitzgibbons, center in each picture, played the bad guy in Saturday's active shooter exercise at the Goldendale Middle School. Bad guy gets cornered.

Saturday, officers responding to Goldendale Middle School (GMS) faced a unique threat: Animal Control Officer Tom Fitzgibbons, wielding a plastic knife. The participating officers were armed with "sim gun" rifles and pistols, nearly identical to their duty weapons except that these fired detergent paint pellets instead of live rounds. Fitzgibbons, subject to multiple barrages, was dressed for the occasion in a paintball mask and puffy down vest.

This marked the 10th year of the Goldendale Police Department (GPD) active shooter drill. The drill ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and comprised three scenarios, with officers responding individually and in teams of two and three. Each officer from participating agencies (GPD, Klickitat County Emergency Management, and the parks department) ran through every scenario.

GMS students and Principal Dave Barta participated, playing victims and hostages. The mood was surprisingly upbeat-officers were charged with adrenaline and the kids seemed to enjoy taking part.

Assessment vs. speed

Police Chief Reggie Bartkowski said procedure regarding active shooterchanged after Columbine. Prior, police were instructed to surround the area and wait for SWAT to arrive and address the threat. Now, recognizing that every second counts, the mission of the first responding officers is to stop the aggressors in as little time as possible. To this end, they are instructed not to assist in evacuation or caring for the injured until the threat is neutralized. Ideally, the threat shouldn't know officers are in the building until confronted.

At the same time, the response requires making high-stakes, split-second decisions in chaotic situations. During the briefing for the drill, Bartkowski emphasized the uncertainty of active shooter incidents. "You never know what exactly 'active shooter' means." The information dispatchers relay to EM responders is only as accurate as witness reports. In the case of Saturday's drill, the "shooter" turned out to be wielding a knife, not a gun.

Other unknowns include how many shooters are involved and who they are. "It could be anybody," Bartkowski said-students, teachers, janitors or parents. To simulate that uncertainty, more of the "civilian" actors in this year's drill wore masks. In the past, only the shooters were masked, making them easy for police to spot-a luxury they wouldn't have in reality.

Jess Macinko

ACTIVE SHOOTER EXERCISE: Tom Fitzgibbons, center in each picture, played the bad guy in Saturday's active shooter exercise at the Goldendale Middle School. Bad guy raises weapon.

"I want you looking at their hands, not their head," Bartkowski told his officers, stressing the need to quickly-but more importantly, accurately-determine friend from foe. "You're responsible for every bullet that comes out of your gun." After each drill, he debriefed the participating team-commending them for things they did well, pointing out areas for improvement and asking them to reflect on why they made the decisions they did.

ALICE

Both GPD and the Goldendale School District use the ALICE active shooter policy. ALICE stands for Alert (calling 9-1-1, broadcasting warnings over PA systems), Lockdown (locking and barricading doors), Inform (telling others of your plan if a shooter enters the area), Counter (launching an offensive against the shooter), and Evacuate. An important distinction is that these are choices, not steps: depending on the situation, any one or combination of the five options may be the best course of action.

ALICE also warns civilians not to pick up or hold a dropped weapon, lest police mistake them for the aggressor. The encouraged procedure is to cover the weapon with a trashcan or similar object.

 

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