Some residents might have noticed a large fire and police presence around Southaven Elementary School this week, and some might have become concerned about what exactly was taking place. However, citizens have nothing to fear, as emergency personnel were merely undergoing active shooter training.
With the rise in school shootings across the country and fear and uncertainty about where it will occur next, Southaven Fire, EMS and Police coordinated with the DeSoto County Emergency Management Agency, Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto and the DeSoto County School District last week to conduct a three-day active shooter training from July 17-19.
The goal of the training exercises was to allow first responders to develop the skills, strategies and experiences necessary in the event of any potential active shooter or bomb threats on a school campus and to prepare emergency personnel to know what to do in the case of a real emergency.
"This collaborative training will help assure a coordinated, timely and effective response in the event of an incident in our City," stated a news release prior to the training. "Providing a safe environment for our students and staff are of paramount importance."
Deputy Chief Mark Little of the Southaven Police Department explained that the first thing that the first two responders on the scene do is establish a command center and that these first responders can be either fire or police.
"What we do is we set up to where the first responders go in and we have to assess the whole situation," said Little. "The biggest thing is to be sure that everybody's safe, be sure that we get the EMS personnel in safely so they can assess the wounded, they can triage while they're on site and we can move the walking wounded out and the ones that aren't injured."
After the first group of emergency personnel goes in, they must radio back outside to let the command center know what's going on.
"As the personnel comes up, we tag them together as a team," said Little. "So we have police officers going in with firemen and EMS, and they're basically going to protect them while they're assessing the patients and working on them."
Those in charge of incident command "call the shots" and dispatch monitors the situation until the fire and police supervisors arrive. The supervisors then take over incident command and make sure which rooms have been cleared. Meanwhile, other responders work to bring those wounded and in danger out.
This past week, emergency responders put these procedures into action and practiced setting up a command center, entering the building, eliminating the threat, bringing victims out and setting up a triage.
Volunteers were on hand to act as schoolchildren, and school officials were also invited to watch how emergency personnel would handle a threatening situation. And with the training conducted over three days, all police and fire shifts were able to participate.
"We have the FBI out here with us, we have our fire department and our police department and we're all training together so that in a situation like this we know how to react to it," said Little.
Little also pointed out that some aspects of the exercises were simulated to make it seem real, such as replacing officers' guns with blanks. He emphasized that safety was a priority for everyone involved.
"All of the officers have their weapons taken from them and are given what we call sim rounds," said Little. "They're not shooting except at a couple of the bad guys in there. It makes the scenario more real."
Brent Walker is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.