Preparation, realism in drills debated

Police officers and sheriff’s deputies move through a hallway during an active shooter training exercise on Wednesday at Central Lake High School in Central Lake. Approximately 200 people, including first responders, school staff and volunteers, participated in two exercises involving simulated attackers and casualties in the school.

CENTRAL LAKE — The call came in at 10 a.m. Wednesday. At least two dead. At least seven injured. An active shooter still at large at Central Lake High School. The transmission ended with the phrase, “This is an exercise,” but its proximity to real tragedy have caused some to question the graphic nature of active-shooter exercises in schools.

Hundreds took part in the active assailant response simulation at Central Lake that involved district staff members as well as law enforcement officials and emergency responders from around northern Michigan.

The day was split into two exercises to identify what a response to an active assailant would like and how to improve the response in the future.

Lenore Weaver, Central Lake Public Schools superintendent, had the idea about a year ago to hold a simulation after a similar exercise was held at Meadow Brook Antrim County Medical Care Facility. Weaver said Wednesday was about affording “all of the agencies around us the opportunity to practice in our facility.”

“It’s a thin line of doing this for the right reasons and not looking like you’re being too militant,” Weaver said. “I’m not naive, so I’m not going to say that this isn’t going to happen — because it certainly could. Nobody thinks it’s going to happen, and then it does. And I refuse to live in a state of mind where that drives what we do.”

A mass casualty training event scheduled at Glen Lake Community Schools last week was canceled because some teachers felt uncomfortable with its scope and graphic nature, and a similar exercise in Indiana in March made headlines when it was reported teachers were mock executed and shot with fake bullets, leaving some staff members injured.

Weaver was also mindful to make sure the training was not too traumatic for those involved, and she said no students were involved and the staff members who were involved did so voluntarily.

“I believe every one of those people would want to show up and help,” she said. “They would do anything they needed to do to keep our kids safe.”

Counselors were also available in every room to help participants who felt overwhelmed or uncomfortable by the training, Weaver said.

“It was very, very important to me that nobody walked out of here feeling like they were in worse shape than when they came in,” she said.

Dennis Halvorsen, the event’s public information officer, said the biggest positive was the relationships the agencies built with each other and the knowledge they gained of how they would interact in response to a mass shooting.

Halvorsen cited that many communities in northern Michigan don’t have sufficient resources or would be limited in their response if left on their own.

“Something like this would pretty quickly overwhelm a local region’s ability to react appropriately,” Halvorsen said. “This requires previous planning and relationship building so that should something of this nature occur, the ability to reach out and have those partnerships already built is critical.”

Halvorsen said they tried to make it as realistic as possible, but he admitted it paled in comparison to an actual shooting. Some operational issues came up during the exercises that will be important for officials to know how to address in the future, Halvorsen said.

“It’s a lot better than the other alternative, which is doing nothing for preparation — and that’s not appropriate,” he said. “That’s letting the community down. Doing nothing would be hard to defend.”

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