With a recent rash of school shootings nationwide, Gwinnett County emergency personnel are among the first in the country to hold extensive training sessions to prepare first responders for school violence.
"We have never done anything on this large of a scale," said Cpl. Jake Smith, of the Gwinnett Police Department.
Members of the police and fire department coordinated with school officials to hold the active shooter training at Mill Creek High School in Hoschton on Thursday.
The scenario presented to emergency crews had two gunmen inside the school and numerous victims played by volunteers.
"The main idea behind this training is an emphasis on speed, on getting officers through the door to address an active shooter and getting paramedics and EMTs through the door to address the wounded as quickly as possible," said Smith.
As part of the training, waves of officers entered the school searching for the shooters and treating victims.
"This is a very important drill we hope we never have to use," said school spokeswoman Sloan Roach.
Smith said in the past, officers would surround a school and assess the danger before moving in. The new approach is to have police move in immediately, in an effort to subdue a gunman and prevent children from being shot.
"It's dangerous but in active shooter situations throughout the country the most fatalities, the most injuries caused by the active shooter occur within the first few minutes of the incident," said Smith. "So it's absolutely essential for law enforcement to get in there and stop that threat."
The new approach also has firefighters working closely with the police department. The fire department has acquired bulletproof vests for crews who respond to dangerous situations where patients need medical help.
"This is something that's new to the fire service in Gwinnett County, but in the times that we live in today, it's necessary for our firefighters and our personnel to have this training," said Capt. Tommy Rutledge.
Volunteers for the training session included administrators, faculty and students.
"I think everyone facing the situation would have a little panic in them, but once you see a firefighter or a police officer, your panic just washes away and there's a sense of relief," said 17-year-old Lauren Elliott, who volunteered as a shooting victim.
The training in Gwinnett County will continue throughout the summer so that as many responders as possible will know how to respond to an active shooter situation at county schools.
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