B y Jaime Thomas
A dozen special responders piled inside Mary J. Tanner school on Monday and began methodically checking to see that every door was locked and the hallways were clear.
Their goal: to find and debilitate an active shooter and then de-escalate a hostage situation. The SERT (Sheriff Emergency Response Team,) armed and dressed in full gear, was conducting one of two active drills to take place in Granville this week. The men later went to Granville Elementary School and played out a similar scenario.
The goal of their exercise was to give school staff, police and students the best possible idea of how to respond in a real version of such an event.
“It allows us to refine our tactics, and it allows them to rehearse their safety plan,” said Captain Bryn Reynolds, road patrol supervisor for the sheriff’s department.
The officers drove to the back of the school and upon entering, searched throughout in the same manner they would in an actual scenario. Because the teachers were prepared as they should have been, the sheriffs were unable to see in the classrooms.
Building principal Diane Dumas said although her teachers practiced similar drills ahead of time, this exercise allowed the police to understand the layout of the school and helped staff see where they can make safety improvements.
“It eases everybody’s mind. It’s really worthwhile to find tweaks we have to make,” Dumas said. Two teachers realized they hadn’t locked their doors properly, for example, while others decided to rearrange their classroom after the drill. Both Dumas and Superintendent Mark Bessen said no one would have known these holes existed otherwise.
“You set up a plan the best you can, but you don’t get some of the cues they’re looking for. This way you can make things better in the future,” Bessen said. “We’ve already modified the safety plan, and we’re continuing to modify the safety plan based on what the team saw on the ground.”
What officials also hope to achieve through this drill is teaching the students to not be afraid of the officers in their special gear, but to look to them for help.
“We look a little different than we normally do, and I’m going to tell you why. I wanted you guys to be able to see us in our uniform, so if something happens for real, you won’t be scared of us,” Reynolds told the students in an assembly following the exercise. He then demonstrated various gear and answered students’ questions.
Dumas said she previously conducted the active shooter drill once each school year, and she now plans on having one at least once every quarter.
“It’s all about allowing the kids to not be overwhelmed,” she said. Reynolds said the SERT has done this drill in a number of area schools, and he hopes to practice in all the schools in Washington County if they reach out to him.