Active shooters in schools: A template for police trainers

The active-shooter training at Pompano Beach High School was designed to evaluate the multi-disciplinary, multi-team, coordinated response

Four disgruntled teenagers — who, according to witnesses, had been bullied — arrived at a Florida high school armed and looking for a fight. They exchanged gunfire in the school’s front courtyard with a School Resource Deputy (SRD), who shot one assailant but was hurt and rendered unable to prevent the other three attackers from entering.

When negotiations with the barricaded gunmen failed, the SWAT team entered and killed them, freeing the frightened students. 

Good thing it was all a drill... THIS TIME...

Realistic Training, Regularly Conducted
The active-shooter training at Pompano Beach High School was designed to evaluate the multi-disciplinary, multi-team, coordinated response to a group of gunmen at a school, and by all accounts was a resounding success. 

The rapidly-unfolding scenario left bloody bullet "wounds" in the legs, arms, and faces of numerous innocent teens as the three young killers roamed the halls and planted improvised explosive devices. Pompano Beach Fire Rescue joined Broward Sheriff’s Office SWAT, hostage negotiators, bomb squad, K-9, and other resources pouring to the scene. 

Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) has two full call-out training scenarios a year, and this was the first one conducted after the Sandy Hook incident. 

“I wanted to test — and show — our preparedness on this kind of scenario,” said Deputy Michael Brady of BSO, who put the training exercise together.  

Brady had his fugitive unit and patrol units unaware of precisely where the scenario would take place. “I had those guys do what they would normally do. Get in their cars, out in their district wherever they would normally be, listening to the radio,” he said. 

“I had the SRD there at the school — a call comes out of four suspicious students at the same time a student is approaching the SRD and pointing out one of the students, saying, ‘I thought I saw him with a gun.’

“While the SRD is dealing that first guy, these others start shooting students in the quad, so when the road patrol showed up, they see one student walking into the building, shooting students. So they go in and deal with him.”

Further, Brady had arranged to have the two remaining gunmen run with the rest of the students into the school and lock themselves into a classroom. The bad guys take those students hostage, which effectively begins the hostage-standoff / hostage-rescue portion of the multi-faceted drill. 

Brady and the BSO training cadre put a lot of emphasis on achieving as much realism as possible. The start of the scenario was marked by the sound of .38 cal. blanks, not the soft ‘pap, pap, pap’ of Simuntions rounds. 

The bloody bullet wounds were realistic thanks to Ft. Lauderdale firefighter Carlos Correa and his wife, Yasmine, who are freelance makeup artists. 

Deputies found what they believed to be explosive devices, making use of the school’s doors impossible.

Consequently BSO’s helicopter dropped the SWAT team onto the roof while the Bomb Squad disabled the devices. K-9 teams entered the school to lead SWAT team members to the suspects.

By all accounts, a tremendously successful day.

Positive Response from Students and Faculty
Because of the construction of the scenario, Brady was not only able to evaluate a wide variety of the agency’s capabilities, but, importantly, had a great opportunity to demonstrate the professionalism and skill of his law enforcers to the kids and the administration at the school.

“The active shooter training conducted in partnership with Pompano Beach High School and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office was an excellent opportunity for our students and staff to work side by side with law enforcement in an exercise that was mutually beneficial,” said Pompano Beach High Principal Hudson Thomas. 

“Our students were excited to be part of the exercise and gained valuable insight into the work of law enforcement. The students were able to view law enforcement training to provide a safer environment for their benefit."

A common criticism — particularly from teachers and school administrators, but also from others — that conducting such realistic training with students playing the parts of victims and bystanders that “It’ll scare the children!”

Good. This is scary stuff, so they SHOULD find it scary (it’s absurd that some people are fine with teaching kids about “stranger danger” unless that danger is an active killer), but they should also take some solace in seeing their local law enforcement heroes practice the response. 

“The kids who participated were all super-excited,” Deputy Brady concluded. “I talked to a couple of them about how they felt — with their fake injuries, and thinking back about Sandy Hook and those little kids being injured — and it definitely gave them a little thought."

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor at Large for PoliceOne, responsible for providing police training content and expert analysis on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 900 feature articles and tactical tips. Doug is also responsible for planning and recording the PoliceOne Podcast, Policing Matters, as well as being the on-air host for PoliceOne Video interviews. Doug also works closely with the PoliceOne Academy to develop training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Doug regularly represents PoliceOne as a public speaker in a variety of forums and is available for media interviews — he has appeared on numerous local and national radio and television news programs, and has been quoted in a host of print publications. 

Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Contact Doug Wyllie

  1. Tags
  2. Officer Safety
  3. Police Trainers
  4. School Violence
  5. Active Shooter

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