SWAT training depicts active shooter scenarios
November 20, 2015
When Makayla Smith drove toward North Summit High School Tuesday evening and saw the flashing emergency lights outside of the school, she thought about leaving.
"I was terrified when I drove up the hill and saw the lights," said Smith, a North Summit senior. "I wanted to go back home."
Tuesday, the multi-jurisdictional Summit Wasatch Advanced Tactics (SWAT) team staged an active-shooter scenario at the school. For training purposes, the incident was intended to look real and included "active shooters," students and a faculty member. Smith was one of 33 National Honor Society members who agreed to participate in the training.
"A lot of people were scared so they backed out," Smith said. "And it was crazy. But I learned a lot."
For nearly three hours, 30 SWAT team members, school resource officers and students ran through North Summit’s hallways enacting several scenarios inside the school. Students were given ear plugs and participating law enforcement officials fired off several dozen blank rounds, leaving the smell of gun powder lingering throughout the hallways.
Students were told to react as if it was a real-life incident involving casualties and hostages. They were sent running down the halls with their hands raised and corralled into classrooms with two trained law enforcement officials acting as the perpetrators, while SWAT and school resource officers attempted to eliminate the "threat."
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SWAT training is typically held on a monthly basis, at a minimum, according to Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office, Heber City Police Department and Park City Police Department supply the deputies and officers for the team. Members are cross-trained as marksmen, entry team, medics, less-lethal and hostage negotiators, according to the Sheriff’s Office website.
However, training involving civilians is only conducted about once a year.
"We don’t often get to do that," Martinez said. "When we do get the opportunity to train with the students and in that environment it only benefits the team. God forbid, if we get caught in that kind of situation it won’t be anything that would be a shock to the team. It’s invaluable to train with the students, staff and our team."
For Martinez and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, SWAT training and school safety is among the top priorities.
"Our innocent youth, when they go into that environment they are entrusted to the faculty and the school to go and get an education. But if something happens and an armed person goes into the school, we are prepared to protect the youth in our community."
The prevalence of school shootings has steadily increased across the country in the past couple of decades, with incidents seemingly occurring on a monthly basis. One of the first mass casualty incidents that sparked a wide-spread evolution in SWAT team response was the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
"It is happening and the unfortunate thing is it is happening more frequently," Martinez said. "When I hear other chiefs and sheriffs throughout the country say, ‘I never thought it would happen to me,’ the thing is, it can happen anywhere. It could happen in Park City and it could happen on the East Side of the county. For us not to train for it I think would be foolish. I hope it never happens, but that mentality ‘it can’t happen?’ It could happen anywhere and we want to be as prepared as possible."
Sgt. Ed Wilde, with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, said with the climate that "we have today we want to make sure our responders are trained and know what to do."
"Columbine was a huge eye-opener for us," Wilde said. "We would set a perimeter, but we had too much of a loss of life. Not to take anything away from those responders, but that’s not how we do things now. We had to reexamine the way we were doing thing and readjust to it. It has tactically evolved."
Tuesday’s training exercise was an intense experience for the students who participated and for Principal Russ Hendry.
"We talked about some things that we, as a school, need to do to help in the event a situation should ever occur," Hendry said. "We are always concerned about student safety."
The training scenarios and dialogue of the "active shooters" resonated with Wyatt Espell, a North Summit student.
"The two shooters had us in the classroom and had a hostage situation," Espell said. "They were just saying stuff like, ‘I’m just a kid and I’m tired of getting teased’ and it just clicked."
Espell said he hadn’t considered the likelihood of a tragic incident at the school, but said this week’s experience made him reevaluate that probability.
"I hadn’t really thought about it because it always happens in other states. But I think more school should be doing that and get more people to see what would happen. I feel really lucky to have been involved."
Mattie Jolly hadn’t given much thought to school shootings either.
"Living in such a small town like Coalville you don’t think about stuff like that here," Jolly said. "I mean obviously it is scary to think of stuff like that going on everywhere else, but because it is so small here you don’t really think about it. But I mean it is definitely a possibility and it happens.
"It makes me want to be a lot nicer to everyone around school just in case something like that happened," she said. "I mean you don’t ever want someone at your school to have to go through that or feel like they need to do something like that. I just definitely feel like I want to make everyone feel like this is a safe place."
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