CARLSBORG — First responders in Clallam County prepared for a worst-case scenario during a mass shooting drill at Greywolf Elementary School.
Friday’s drill was the first active shooter mass casualty drill to include several Clallam County law enforcement agencies, fire departments and paramedics.
The drill at Greywolf Elementary at 171 Carlsborg Road was also the first on-site active shooter drill State Patrol Trooper Alisha Gruszewski has participated in locally. Practicing on-site helps her and other responders become more familiar with the school, which helps if a real emergency would occur, she said.
As Gruszewski entered the school, children with simulated injuries began crying and yelling for help. They asked how their friends were doing and if they were going to live.
Amid all the confusion, she and other officers still needed to concentrate on the shooter, who remained inside.
Many of those involved had to block out the pain and helplessness of the mock victims and concentrate on eliminating the threat.
“There were a lot of voices and a lot of different combinations of things going on when we’re in there,” she said. “It’s trying to pick out the things that are most important and then zoning out on the rest.”
As she approached the building, she said the first thing on her mind was communication, thinking about how to interact with different agencies and how it was going to go when she got inside.
Law enforcement from the Sequim Police Department, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, Olympic National Park, State Patrol and U.S. Border Patrol participated in the drill.
Clallam County firefighters, paramedics and Airlift Northwest also participated.
“You’re just trying to focus on where any threats might be, looking for other law enforcement personnel and making sure everything is still secure,” Gruszewski said. “Then, trying to take care of the biggest problems with the casualties and the victims.”
When officers entered the building, they found 13 mock victims and the shooter, said Jim Borte, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office.
The training drill is a product of an interagency group that includes law enforcement instructors, fire personnel, medics, school faculty from different school districts, Peninsula College, Olympic Medical Center, the Olympic Peninsula Chapter of the American Red Cross, Clallam County Emergency Services, Olympic Ambulance, Clallam Transit, Forks Community Hospital, Clallam County Road Department and state Department of Transportation.
Law enforcement agencies in the group, which began meeting in January, include the Sequim Police Department, Port Angeles Police Department, La Push Tribal Police Department, Neah Bay Public Safety, U.S. Border Patrol, Elwha Tribal Police Department, State Patrol, Olympic National Park and Clallam County Sheriff’s Office.
Borte said the group is planning about 20 more of these drills to give first-responders first-hand training at the county’s schools.
He didn’t know exactly how long that will take but said the group will have to schedule with the schools.
“Every time we do a drill, it’s to get better,” he said. “This preparation is the key to being successful in responding if this ever happens.”
After the drill was an after-action meeting where agencies discussed what worked and what didn’t.
Areas that could be improved will be incorporated into future drills or responses to an actual event.
Borte encourages parents to talk to their children about mass shootings and to assure them their community cares about them.
“It’s just important when these kinds of events happen, even if you see a news report, to talk to the kids and reassure them … that law enforcement and medical services are practicing and working so they can respond as quickly as possible,” he said.
The drill is part of a statewide mandate for all schools to conduct mass casualty drills.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].