Hundreds of emergency responders, students and school officials in Eatonville participated in an active shooter drill coordinated by Pierce County Emergency Management and hosted by the Eatonville School District that took over two schools and several blocks in the Mount Rainier foothills community.
The event, which included 17 responding agencies from Pierce, King and Snohomish counties, was the culmination of about nine months of emergency response planning that was meant to prepare students, school officials and emergency responders for a large scale school shooting.
Sixth-grader Brooklyn Welch, 12, was the first victim in one of two simulated shooting scenarios. She waited on the floor of the school’s front office for about 40 minutes with a fake gunshot wound to the shoulder, before being carried out by a SWAT team officer in full gear.
“It was scary watching the SWAT team come,” she said.
Rich Stewart, the district’s outgoing superintendent, said he initiated plans for the drill after a lockdown last year uncovered holes in response procedures.
“The first responders and schools weren’t prepared,” he said Monday.
Marci Scott, program manager for Pierce County Emergency Management, said the training is part of a larger effort to better prepare the schools to respond to a variety of emergencies.
“This is happening everywhere and if we’re not prepared to respond to this type of event then we aren’t doing any justice for our children,” Scott said of the training exercise.
The drill involved two simultaneous scenarios, with an active shooter in the middle school and a hostage situation on a school bus near the high school. The latter involved negotiations with the suspect by Pierce County SWAT team members and ended in a fake shootout and detention of another volunteer on the bus.
Agencies incorporated their professional training into the event, which was funded with $37,000 in federal grants from the Department of Homeland Security.
The community knew the exercise was taking place the first week of June, but the exact time, date and location was primarily kept secret.
Scott said the surprise factor is important in drills of this scale to test a school’s response procedures on the fly.
“It’s very important that we do lockdown drills and that we understand what this looks like in a more realistic scenario,” she said.
Officials from other school districts observed the exercise to gather information for future, similar drills.
Sgt. Jerry Bates with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said this type of training is especially important for law enforcement to get different agencies on the same page should they have to respond together. The drill works to improve communication and collaboration with agencies that don’t work together on a daily basis, he said.
Kari Plog: 253-597-8682