Tallapoosa County Sheriff deputies practice moving in formation through Horseshoe Bend School Tuesday. The exercises were meant to hone the incident response skills of officers while also familiarizing them with the layout of HSBS. | Austin Nelson

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Mastering the terrain

Published 5:13pm Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Officers prepare for disaster by learning layout of county schools

Officers from multiple departments gathered at Horseshoe Bend School Tuesday for a chance to run drills and see the school’s layout.

Though there has been a renewed interest in school safety following the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, law enforcement have been simulating active shooter drills in local schools for years.

“We have an active shooter training every year,” said Chief Deputy David McMichael with the Tallapoosa County Sheriff’s Department. “(Today’s training) didn’t spawn from the shooting in Connecticut.”

Tuesday’s exercise was not a full-blown active shooter drill, which would feature  blank rounds, smoke and possibly booby traps. The point of the day, McMichael said, was to familiarize officers with the layout of the building.

“In our after-action review from the last active shooter drill, some of the officers said it would be good to see the layouts of other schools,” McMichael said. “We can show them on slide presentations, but they don’t get a good feel for it until they get inside.”

Tallapoosa County Board of Education Superintendent Joe Windle said the exercise was a sign of the growing cooperation between educators and law enforcement.

“It is going to take a partnership between law enforcement and education that will take all of us working together in these kinds of incidents to help minimize the loss of life,” Windle said. “This is building on the lessons that we have learned over the past 10 years with incidents that have happened in other schools.”

Horseshoe Bend School was the first training site, but Windle said the officers would be visiting every county school.

“We want them to be familiar with and comfortable with the school,” Windle said. “It’s like being a hunter – if you know your terrain, you have an advantage.”

Tuesday’s exercise featured officers from Tallapoosa County Sheriff’s Department, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Alabama State Troopers and New Site Police Department.

“We took anyone that wanted to participate today because if we ever have an emergency at any one of our county schools the closest person is going to respond,” McMichael said.

While law enforcement continues to search for ways to better their response, Windle said educators are also looking for ways to assist in that response.

“If we can buy precious minutes without losing any of our children, they will do what they have to do,” Windle said. “It takes both of us working together.”