Local News

School shooting scenario offers lessons in emergency response

SEBRING - As dozens of first responders, including police, EMS and firefighters, rushed to Desoto High School recently, Deputy Superintendent Rodney Hollinger watched with interest. He and representatives from the Highlands County Health Department looked on as a full-scale "active shooter scenario" exercise at the school offered observers and participants a look at ways to improve their response to a school emergency. Hollinger told the school board Tuesday that he is checking with local agencies to determine if grant money is available to conduct a similar exercise in Highlands County. The scenario in DeSoto County was funded with a $25,000 grant through the DeSoto County Emergency Operations Center.
Hollinger said DeSoto County officials learned a lot and he learned a lot sitting in the observation area. An important point was noted early in the exercise, he said. After the simulated report of a shots fired at the school and the initial response, Hollinger said he told Tom Moran, of the Highlands County Health Department, that the responders appeared to have a problem. A police officer arrived first and parked his cruiser in the driveway. Then an ambulance arrived and parked next to the cruiser leaving only one small opening in the driveway leading to the school, he said. The next police officer parked in that last opening in the driveway. "In the next five minutes there are 100 police cars and ambulances and firefighters and everybody else trying to get in," Hollinger said. "So the first thing they learned is you've got to be careful where you park. "There were a whole lot of things that were very interesting; I would love to have us have the opportunity to put it on," he told the school board. Highlands County Health Department Planning Consultant Tom Moran said he and Health Department Administrator Mary Kay Burns attended the active shooter scenario. The Ocala company EREC, Inc. (Emergency, Response, Educators and Consultants) developed and conducted the six-hour exercise on Oct. 21. Moran noted, "We observed that something of that nature, that could happen in any school, involves the whole community of emergency responders." It would involve the Health Department, which has public information officers that would assist in that situation and coordinate with the hospitals and the first responders who are transporting victims to the appropriate facilities. Moran supports doing a similar exercise in Highlands County. "We have to get all the different agencies exercising and training together because when an incident happens in real life these are the same people who are going to be working together," he said. "It's always good to spend the time and effort and the energy to exercise and train together." Also, related to school security, a state required report shows the School Board of Highlands County has some work to do to meet a list of safety and security measures and requirements. Deputy Superintendent Rodney Hollinger told the school board that this year the safety and security checklist has the most "in progress" checks compared to previous years. Florida statutes requires school districts to conduct an annual self-assessment of their safety and security programs using a government form. The 32-page report has numerous check marks in the "yes" box, but also 35 check marks for "in progress." Hollinger explained Thursday, "We have more responses in our toolkits of things to do in different situations than we used to and because we are working on those things and we are working on suggestions from the sheriff's department and other places, we've go a lot more 'in progresses' than we used to." mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826