GRAFTON—Shots rang out through the hallways and a Code Red lockdown was called at Anna Jarvis Elementary School. Minutes later, Grafton Police Department officers stormed the school in search of the gunman.
The scenario was a tense one, but was only part of an active shooter training held, on Saturday, by the police department and Taylor County Board of Education, in conjunction with Sentry Surveillance’s Code Red Remote Overwatch Support program, to test the newly implemented program.
“The safety of the students is our number one priority,” shared Superintendent Kathy Green. “I feel like the cameras have added a piece of mind to what could be a horrific event.”
Before the training kicked off, Grafton Police Chief Robert Beltner told those in attendance about their teaming up with Rob Lambert of Sentry Surveillance.
“Rob got a hold of me back in August and had me come to the board office to check out the cameras that had been installed. It was decided he would implement a program where he could access the cameras from a remote location to assist during an active shooter or incident that would involve police, to help out,” Beltner shared.
Through careful training and cooperation, all entities involved would be able to communicate with each other, to better resolve a potentially deadly situation.
“This type of drill or training is very important to all of us,” expressed Patrolman Cole Durrett. “They are going to allow us to understand the process more. The overwatch support program is a huge asset to us, because it will allow us to know where exactly in the school the shooter is.”
“This is a way to allow us to change the procedure we would use,” voiced Beltner. “Getting law enforcement to change is a difficult thing. We are set in our ways. It’s too easy to get in a mindset that it will never happen here. If this works, and it will work, we will be the first county in the state of WV that does this.”
He disclosed that initially, officers were directed to wait outside of the school to form a team before entering, but that was the cause of a higher rate of death.
“We changed our thought process. We’re not waiting. As soon as we get to the school, we are going in,” Beltner commented. “The average response time for an active shooter is 18 minutes. If it takes us 18 minutes to get to Grafton High School or Anna Jarvis, once that incident is over, I’m firing some guys. Our response time should be two minutes tops.”
During the exercises, both Lambert and the officers responding knew nothing of the planned scenarios. A gunman, or gunmen, would enter the school, shots would be fired, a code red would be announced and then a call would be made to Harrison-Taylor County 911.
“Once the call was made to 911, they notified us so that we could get officers responding and Rob was able to key up his system to help feed us information about the shooter’s whereabouts, so that it could be passed on to the officers inside of the building,” he explained.
Officers responded to the school from a remote location, and upon their arrival they entered the school and began searching for the subject.
Lambert, who was watching the cameras from his remote location, was able to provide a description of the suspect or suspects, along with their location within the school, to a command post set up outside of the school. That information was then passed on to the responding officers.
“You can’t beat live intel,” shared Detective Dayton Mayle.
Beltner revealed that most of the scenarios were over in approximately four minutes, and that the longest time recorded was 12 minutes.
“We made some mistakes and we have already corrected our approach. We’ve already made changes to our procedure after today,” he noted.
Not only was it a training day for the department, board, school employees and Lambert, but also for the 911 dispatchers, according to Beltner.
“911 has realized that they were unable to handle the situation like they thought they were going to be able to, and they now know where they need to make some changes,” he reported.
School personnel and teachers were able to discuss any issues or ask any questions about the process that they felt need clarification. After a short discussion, Beltner and all the participants agreed that the training provided a highly useful experience to use in the event of a live active shooter.
“It was definitely an eye-opening experience,” imparted Beltner.