Purdy schools hold active shooter exercise

Friday, November 13, 2015

Training the first of its kind at Purdy school district

Purdy police, backed by the Barry County Sheriff's Office, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and an officer from the Department of Conservation, conducted an active shooter exercise at the Purdy school complex.

This was the first time the Purdy schools have held an active shooter training. Several obstacles developed that limited the activity, but participants found the effort valuable for future reference.

Purdy Police Chief Jackie Lowe planned the exercise with Carl Cosper, staff sergeant with the Barry County Sheriff's Office. Unexpectedly, Cosper became unavailable the day of the event. As a result, earlier planning became irrelevant, leaving a more spontaneous exercise, possibly more of what officers might face under real conditions.

The basic exercise involved five simulated armed persons going into the school and firing handguns loaded with blanks. Lowe, Sheriff Mick Epperly and Wheaton Police Chief Clint Clark served as observers. Purdy Officer Russ Nichols and Reserve Jon Egleston served as the first officers on the scene.

Without Cosper's briefing, Barry County dispatchers did not know plans for alerting firefighters, who were not in place to respond. Emergency medical crews from the Barry-Lawrence Ambulance District had positioned by the Purdy Community Building to be available to treat the wounded.

Lowe reported the shooters moved freely through the building, firing their weapons. Teachers, present for a professional development day, but no students, responded as they became aware of the gunfire. Responding officers, unaware of the number of assailants, moved in from both the east and the west entrances, following the sound of gunfire.

"We ended up shooting all the bad guys," Nichols said. "One ended up 'committing suicide.'"

"For the most part, we were pleased with how it ran," Lowe said. "There will always be issues."

The lack of preparation due to Cosper's absence cut the exercise from two scenarios to one. The exercise run used all the available responders. The fire district, after a delayed arrival, sent two trucks to the school, creating a tunnel through which children could walk in evacuating the school. Medical crews moved in to treat five injured persons.

Around nine deputies joined the law enforcement response. Lowe said there were enough officers to secure the school and put a perimeter around the building. In an actual event, an all-call would have brought officers from multiple counties, and more than the number who came for the exercise, Nichols added.

The spread-out nature of the Purdy campus presented challenges for the officers. Lowe said that even after subduing the recognized shooters, officers would have to conduct an extensive search of the buildings to check the various nooks and crannies.

One major concern surfaced in the debriefing. One of the teachers observed that she heard nothing from the location of her room and had no idea a dangerous situation had developed.

"This was mainly training for us," Lowe said. "For the most part I thought it went well."

Nichols said the complications in communications only improved the experience.

"It's what we hoped for," Nichols said. "You want to have issues [in an exercise]."

Lowe initially planned to hold the active shooter training last spring, but timing did not work out. He hopes to hold another exercise within the next year.

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