Albemarle County Public Schools is trying to take a proactive approach to one of parents’ and students’ top concerns in the classroom. Not fractions, not recess, but active shooters.
Since the Columbine mass shooting in 1999, more than 338,000 students in the U.S. have experienced gun violence at school, according to gun violence prevention nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise. In fact, there were more school shootings last year — 46 — than in any year since Columbine.
And while the Charlottesville area has seen more active shooter hoaxes in recent years that active shooters, it is still naturally top of mind for parents and students who can’t help but see headlines from cities across the country.
A training program to help better prepare the county school division was held at Walton Middle School on Friday with more than 150 people in attendance. The joint training was held between Albemarle County’s police department, fire department and school division.
“Hopefully we never have a real-world situation when we have to use this, but we will continue to practice and training exercises,” Terry Walls, deputy chief of police operations, told The Daily Progress.
First responders have been working on a rescue task force plan, a new way of operating to offer help to those injured faster, according to Walls.
“So with those initiatives over the last probably about 18 months, we’ve been working on policies and procedures and all that has kind of led to working within the schools and bringing these field training exercises together to bring that practice in like a real-life scenario,” Walls said.
That said, the department has always had a plan.
“We have always had emergency action plans as it relates to active assailants and recently with the national trends and the factors that the best way to preserve life is to make sure that we are able to get the medics to injured people as soon as possible,” Walls said.
Part of Friday’s training consisted of a briefing to ensure safety.
“Other parts of the day talk about our objectives and what we’re looking to do and then actually putting officers, supervisors, firefighters, medics and school staff into positions with role players and actually facing what we think a true active shooter scenario would be and they have to react and work just as they would if there’s a real scenario,” Walls said.
Afterwards, the departments held scenario debriefings and discussed improvements. Some of the things the departments looked to improve were communication and equipment.
“When you go between agency, like us and fire, or us talking to the admin of the schools, we’re looking to see did that communication flow well, is there areas for improvement with that, were our tactics sound, is the equipment that we have issued, was there anything identified with that, those type of things is what we were looking for and you know, we will tweak some of that to hopefully improve,” Walls said.
As a way to continuously improve, training exercises don’t stop here.
“There are always training exercises in the works,” Walls said. “I don’t necessarily have a date for the next one that will be with the schools, but we often work with several of our partners in the community with training exercises such as the hospitals, the airport, the University of Virginia, the Virginia State Police,” Walls said.