Marine Corps Base Quantico -- Marine Corps Base Quantico Security Battalion held an active shooter drill at Crossroads Elementary School aboard base July 27.
The exercise gave military police, civilian law enforcement, firefighters and paramedics a chance to practice and coordinate their response to an active shooter situation. Dan Bertrand, a trainer with Homeland Security Solutions, Inc., which led and evaluated the drill, said that responders must have 16 hours of training in active shooter preparedness.
“The command here takes that even further,” he said. “Security Battalion is training tirelessly for this threat. You have to train for all the pieces of the pie: neutralizing the shooter, dealing with casualties, medevacs, evidence, communication with the community, worried parents, interviews, etc.
This is a full-scale exercise. We’re not just practicing officer movements, but how everything works together.”
Students were not present for the drill as they are on summer vacation, but Marines from Marine Corps Air Facility Quantico stood in as role players, simulating injured, scared, or hiding children.
“With children, you’re dealing with a situation that’s more emotional,” Bertrand said. “The feeling of an officer seeing a wounded child will be intense. But if the shooter is still active, the officer will have to bypass that child. To stay on mission and stay focused in that situation is extremely difficult.”
He said that law enforcement responding to an active shooter in a school setting need to be mindful of the fact that while children are probably better than adults at following directions, they might not be able to follow complex instructions. Law enforcement will need to be careful not to make a scary situation worse.
“Adults do bad things to adults all the time, but when children are involved, there’s extra pressure,” Bertrand said.
Another element of difficulty is the fact that many of the officers and MPs who would respond to a threat at the elementary school have children who attend the school.
“Quantico is a close-knit community,” Bertrand said.
He said that when conducting active shooter drills at schools, the presence of actual school-aged children who might find the exercise traumatic can be controversial.
“The benefits might not outweigh the cost,” he said. “But for staff to witness a drill is helpful because they’ll have added responsibility in case of a threat. I think about that teacher who came to school to teach a science class and ends up sheltering 20 students behind a locked door. Talk about a burden. How does that person feel?”
A team made up of a Marine military policeman (MP) and a civilian law enforcement officer were the first to respond to the drill at Crossroads. They followed the sounds of gunfire to the second floor of the school where they found the shooter barricaded inside a classroom and refusing to surrender. They established communication with the shooter.
A short time later, the base Special Reaction Team—the military equivalent of a civilian police department’s SWAT team—arrived, followed by hostage negotiators.
Meanwhile, fire and emergency services arrived outside the school and waited until they received word that the shooter was contained. Then they sent in Rescue Task Forces—teams of paramedics guarded by MPs—to triage the victims. The injured and dead were removed to collection areas established in front of the school.