For several years, an intense training in Jessamine County has taught Nicholasville police officers how to respond if an active shooter is on the loose in a school. This year, the scope of the program widened and took aim at involving all public-safety organizations for a comprehensive scenario.
The active-shooter training had a very real feel inside West Jessamine High School last week as groups of law-enforcement officers received information from a dispatcher and headed toward the staircase, unsure what was waiting for them above. The pops of the plastic-pellet guns began as they turned the corner and engaged the gunman.
These same police scenarios have been used for several years, with Nicholasville officers training on tactics at East Jessamine Middle School in 2010 and at Jessamine Career and Technology Center last year. But after last year’s event that involved the Nicholasville Fire Department for the first time, command staff decided it was time to broaden the training and include Wilmore police, the sheriff’s office and other agencies that would be involved in a real school shooting — Jessamine County EMS, Jessamine County E-911 and even Saint Joseph-Jessamine RJ Corman Ambulatory Care Center.
One large scenario Thursday afternoon involved two shooters and the wreckage from a pipe bomb in the school. Once the simulated immediate danger was over, fire-department and EMS personnel moved in to begin assessing injuries; many of the victims were alumni of the Nicholasville Police Department’s Citizens’ Police Academy, made up in gruesome detail to simulate real injuries. Victims were transported outside, where some were loaded into ambulances and transported to a makeshift hospital manned by Saint Joseph-Jessamine staff.
“We wanted to put together a training session so that we would all understand how each one of our roles played in this situation,” Nicholasville police officer Kevin Grimes said. “Obviously, law enforcement would be there initially to protect lives and take care of the assailants; from that point, it becomes a matter of deciding who does what next.”
The reasoning for the training goes back to the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in which two students killed 13 people. The protocol at that point was to wait for a SWAT team before making entry.
“Over the past few years, training has changed so much that now, if a threat takes place — whether it be one officer, two officers, whoever is on scene first — their job is to go in and take care of the situation right then and there,” Grimes said.
Having the training in real schools allows officers to become familiar with the layouts of the facilities. Schools superintendent Lu Young observed a scenario Thursday and said she appreciated the involvement this year of so many county agencies.
“We talk a lot in superintendents’ training and in school training about the importance of community engagement,” she said. “To do it across these agencies, who are very busy people — when we have a tragedy, they’ve got to all come together and support each other, so doing this together is a uniquely good opportunity.”
Grimes said planning for the event took the entire 12 months since last year’s training ended but that the work from all the agencies was worth it.
“At the end of the day, I feel like this training has made our community safer — not just vital training for the officers in learning how to work together, how to work with other agencies, but it has made our community safer,” he said.