Effingham County sheriff’s deputies combed the halls of Ebenezer Middle School, guns at the ready as they readied for a worst-case scenario.
The sheriff’s department conducted its annual active shooter training Monday at EMS, as deputies, individually and in teams, went up against one and sometimes two deputies in the roles of assailants.
For those who pose that it can’t happen here, sheriff’s officials respond that others have said the same thing — before it did happen there.
“We can’t not go and prepare as best as possible in case it happens,” Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said.
Said Sgt. Brian Munday: “It can happen anywhere, any place, any time. It knows no boundaries. That’s what we train and prepare for.”
Strategies for dealing with these situations have changed since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.
“A lot of this training has changed from that era,” Munday said.
Sgt. Ed Myrick led the training sessions, giving an overview beforehand to go over possible tactics to what’s important in the situations he would lay out for them.
“Communication, communication, communication,” he implored. “Job 1 is to neutralize the perpetrator. You have less than a minute to act.”
In their scenarios, deputies were called to the scene and the urgency needed requires action before a SWAT team can be dispatched.
“Act immediately,” Myrick stressed to the deputies. “If you hesitate, people will die.”
He also asked them to picture their own children or a relative or someone they know in that school.
“Do you want that student in that classroom while they are shooting?” he asked.
The scenarios didn’t involve hostage situations, but Myrick pointed out those were possible with the role-playing gunmen, equipped with automatic rifles, roaming the school’s halls.
“Every county that touches us had an officer-involved shooting in the last two to three years,” McDuffie said.
Though the school was empty, there was still plenty of noise, provided by a shotgun firing off flash-bang rounds, and the constant pop of the rifles as air-soft pellets filled the air.
“The only thing that would make it better would be the fire extinguishers going off and the children running past you,” Munday said. “Nothing can prepare you for that. But this is valuable training.”
It is also designed to get the officers ready for a situation in any type of building. Choosing a school building in the summer allows them to train and control their environment as much as possible.
“We try to make it as realistic as possible,” Myrick said. “The more realistic I can make it, the better for them. They don’t know where the bad guy is going to be. They have to use their skills and their tactics.”
The blasts from the shotgun “get their adrenaline going and get their heart pumping,” Myrick said. The pellets leave the barrel at 200 a minute and travel at 350 feet per second. Several of the officers sported welts and cuts from where the mock assailants sprayed them with gunfire.
“Those little pellets sting,” Munday said. “But against those bullets, you’ve got to have that determination to go in there.”