With mass shootings happening more frequently in schools throughout the United States, law enforcement, EMS, and other first responders are more coordinated than ever to respond to acts of mass murder, supported by more than $2 billion spent every year on school security.
Schools across the country are incorporating more realism into active shooter drills, and are more frequently allowing local law enforcement agencies to conduct their own drills alongside teachers and students.
The goal is to provide practical training in both survival and rescue tactics in the event of an active shooter situation.
For students and teachers of Anna Klein School in Guttenberg, realism and shock were at an all-time high on the morning of Sept. 20, after a months-long planning effort.
Sgt. Mike Gonzalez of the Hudson County Regional SWAT Team gave a synopsis of the active shooter drill, in which he estimated a total of 60 SWAT officers were deployed. More than 80 first responders were on the scene.
Two law enforcement personnel posed as shooters, while teachers were drafted to pose as victims. The shooters fired blanks in the hallway, and had four “casualties.”
In succession, police departments from Guttenberg, West New York, and North Bergen responded to the scene. The regional SWAT team was then called in, in a Quick Reaction Force Unit.
Members of the SWAT team guarded the Rescue Task Force (RTF), which was made up of paramedics from North Bergen, Union City, and West New York. RTFs are a team of guards and medics specially trained to respond to the scene of an active shooter and perform first aid prior to evacuation in an effort to save more lives.
K-9 Units from the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office assisted in tracking down the shooter.
One of the shooters was “neutralized” in the basement of the school. The other was holed up in a room on the third floor with “hostages.”
“Our crisis negotiations team did attempt to conduct some negotiation there, but it wasn’t working, so the SWAT team made a decision to enter and ‘neutralize the threat,’” Gonzalez said.
Throughout the drill, several observers noted down the strengths and weaknesses of every medical and law enforcement unit engaged in the exercise.
School administrators and law enforcement personnel seemed to agree that drills like these are a necessary way for first responders and teachers to hone survival, defense, and rescue skills.
“These drills are very important, and unfortunately, the climate we’re at today is what it is,” Gonzalez said. “In order to get ahead of the curve, we conduct these drills to be well-prepared for any event like this if it takes place in Hudson County.”
Schools Superintendent Michelle Rosenberg echoed that sentiment.
“I’m a big believer in drilling like it’s real, so that we can see the flaws on our end, and police can work on their flaws too,” Rosenberg said. “It helps us assess what we need to fix in general. Teachers knew they were gonna be drilling in the near future, but they didn’t know when. I told parents this morning, just to prevent panic on the outside once they saw the huge amount of police vehicles.”
Afterward, a debriefing session was held by every unit that took part in the drill, based on assessors’ observations. All 80-plus first responders went over the benchmarks hit, and what aspects of the drill could have been smoother.