Emergency vehicles with lights flashing surrounded the old Effingham County Middle School Monday morning as sounds of shots rang out.
Fortunately, it was all a drill — designed to train local emergency responders how to handle a workplace shooting.
“We’ve been real fortunate in Effingham County that we haven’t had something like this, but the possibility is it can happen anytime,” said Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie.
Effingham County Emergency Management, Fire and Rescue, Sheriff’s Office and 911 teamed with Effingham Health System and several other local agencies on the exercise, which simulated three shooters with high-powered weapons opening fire inside an office. ECSO deputies entered the building and faced “live” rounds while trying to communicate with each other and track the three “suspects” in a very frantic environment.
“We pretty well tried to overwhelm them,” McDuffie said. “We also tried to overwhelm our 911 center. We tried to max out all our facilities and all our resources to see where our shortfalls are at this time.”
In the exercise, one deputy and one shooter were each fatally wounded, and 10 “innocent bystanders” were hurt. A triage was set up at Effingham County Middle, and the “wounded” were taken to Effingham Hospital for treatment.
“That’s as realistic as it gets (for training),” said Effingham Emergency Management Director Ed Myrick.
“A lot of different things could happen, including innocent people being shot,” McDuffie said. “Anytime you’ve got bullets flying, you can’t change their direction once they’re gone.”
One key component of the exercise was participation from the community. Representatives from several local businesses observed the training so they could better understand what to do if a similar tragedy unfolded at one of their offices.
“They can go back and put policies in place to actually protect their co-workers,” Myrick said.
Although some people might think a workplace shooting won’t happen in a community the size of Effingham, Myrick pointed to one earlier this year at a warehouse in Pooler. A 28-year-old man died after being shot in the head by a co-worker.
“This does happen locally. It can happen and it will happen, and hopefully we’ll be prepared for it,” Myrick said.
A summary of the exercise will be given to the Effingham County Board of Commissioners to evaluate the county’s emergency response policies. Along with Monday’s full-scale exercise, ECSO deputies will continue to participate in shooter simulation training all week.