The past two major active shooter drills involving agencies across the county were loud affairs with blaring sirens and alarms, and officers arriving on the scene encountering shots fired almost immediately.
The scenario presented by Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell Tuesday morning required stealth, investigation, and negotiation.
“It was a domestic situation that started at the school and entered the school, becoming a domestic shooting event,” Murrell said. “From there, it escalates into a random shooting situation.”
But the shooting is over by the time officers arrive, and the first responders have to figure out what happened and locate the bad guys.
“It was a little different”
Murrell added, “In previous drills you heard gunshots, but this wasn’t a situation where officers heard gunshots as soon as they pulled up. It puts everybody in a different state of mind. The officers came in quietly because there was no gunfire to run towards, and they had a big job to find out exactly what was going on.”
Eventually officers locate casualties and discover that the suspects have barricaded themselves in a classroom with hostages.
“(Officers) had to use their expertise to get them out, while conducting an evacuation of the school,” Murrell said. “It was a little different. We tried to throw some new things at them, and I think everyone did an excellent job. A lot of things were done right. Some things we need to improve on. With every drill and every scenario, we keep improving every time.”
The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office and Mount Carmel Police Department participated in the drill along with the Mount Carmel, Church Hill and Carters Valley fire departments; Church Hill Rescue Squad; Hawkins County EMS; Hawkins County EMA; TEMA; Hawkins County Central Dispatch; Mount Carmel Public Works; and multiple agencies from Kingsport and Sullivan County.
Here are comments from some other participants in Tuesday's drill.
Director of Schools Matt Hixson
“My staff learned much about the importance of adhering to protocols such as locking doors, staying put no matter what, and waiting for law enforcement directions before proceeding. Hopefully, we never need to implement what we learn in this training, but they help us prepare nevertheless. Law enforcement, EMS, and the school system use these drills to identify areas which need to be improved as well.”
MCPD Chief Ken Lunsford Jr.
“The main thing we’ve got to learn is to work with all the other agencies. You might know how to work with your own guys, but when you start bringing in every other agency, the trick is determining who does what and how to work together and make the team bigger. That’s probably the most valuable aspect of the training.”
Lunsford and his new assistant chief, Scott Alley, were both longtime members of the HCSO who previously trained in school active shooter drills. But this was a new experience for his other officers.
“I’m going to be looking to send my guys anytime the sheriff’s office has any active shooter training of any kind,” Lunsford said.
He added, “Everything went as well as planned, getting them contained. At our school, the response was outstanding because the police department is right next to the school. We almost share the same backyard, so in the event we actually have an incident at Mount Carmel Elementary, we’re going to be on top of it and be responding first, but then you have to wait for others from other agencies to back you up. It’s an awesome training. I think we’re ahead of the curve with other agencies from across the country. It’s something I hope we continue to do, and I hope it’s training we never have to use.”
Sheriff Ronnie Lawson
“The agencies that participated worked well together, and I think the school staff learned some things, and we did too.”
It was also their first countywide active shooter drill at Mount Carmel Elementary, which is a large school with long hallways and two levels. Lawson said it was valuable for his officers to become more familiar with MCES.
“Officers rely on their training, and if they’ve got good training, when it comes to an emergency, they’ll rely on it on instinct. If they’re not properly trained, it could cost some people their lives. This was a great learning experience and tool for everyone involved.”