With the constant chatter of an automatic weapon ringing through the halls — which were now filled with smoke and noise — Effingham sheriff’s deputies worked their way down the hall, looking for the gunman, or gunmen, on the loose.
It was a drill — the automatic weapon sprayed small pellets at the advancing officers and the smoke and noise were courtesy of blank charges from a shotgun — but it was treated with the utmost severity. This week, the active shooter training is taking place at a mostly empty Effingham County High School.
“I’ve been through several different trainings,” said ECSO Sgt. Scott Lewis. “It’s good training for us to do once a year. We’ve been fortunate here in Effingham County that we haven’t had any violent situations in the schools. But it’s something we need to be proficient in. Our school resource officers work pretty hard to contact these problems before they get out of hand. But it’s something we have to be prepared for.”
About 60 law enforcement officers from local agencies and even from the security teams of corporations had been through the active shooter training as of Thursday, according to ECSO training coordinator Sgt. Ed Myrick. The training concludes Friday, with about another 10 or so officers taking part.
Myrick himself played the part of a shooter, armed with an automatic weapon, on the loose in a wing of the school. In preparing the other officers for the scenario, Myrick told them of recent incidents where an officer shot a hostage being held by an assailant.
“Your main purpose is to eliminate the threat,” Myrick told his students Thursday morning, “but also to protect the hostage. Your job one is to neutralize the perpetrator.”
What transpires in such situations across the country is incorporated into the training.
“Every scenario we run, that’s something we take very seriously,” Myrick said.
Myrick went through several modes of approaching an area where a suspected gunman would be, how the officers should go into the rooms and how they should communicate with each other “so the bad guys can’t hear what you’re talking about,” he said.
Myrick also told the officers to be prepared for just about anything.
“Sprinklers will be spraying, noises will be loud, chaos will be everywhere,” he warned.
That also made the scenario a more realistic, as the smell and smoke of exploding rounds and the shouts of officers and would-be suspects and hostages filled the tight corridor.
“It helps a great deal,” Lewis said. “With most situations we get into, you don’t have guns going off and smoke. It helps us in keeping a mental focus on the task. If you let them take you away from your principles, you’ll get shot.”
Part of the instruction also covers typical mistakes that are made and how to avoid them. Myrick and other deputies went over the successes and failures of each run through the gantlet with the officers who took part.
“We learn every time,” Lewis said. “Each time we go through, it’s a different scenario. You’ll pick up if you should have gone right or left or if we should have gone in quick or held back. Every time you go through it, you figure out something you should have done differently.”
While the small rounds whipping through the hallway and bouncing off the floors and walls weren’t meant to hurt, Myrick and the deputies also know that training could mean the difference in a real-world environment.
“This is what they pay us to do, to put our lives on the front line,” he said. “If we need to go down to protect the kids’ lives or the faculty’s lives, that’s what we do. Take him out, that’s No. 1. If that means running down a hallway toward an M-16, that’s what it means.”