Wheaton schools host active shooter training
Exercises aim to prepare law enforcement, school staff for emergency
The Barry County Sheriff's Office, Wheaton Police Department, Wheaton schools, the Missouri Department of Conservation and emergency response teams recently conducted a shooter training drill at Wheaton schools.
Due to an increase in school shootings in recent years, the drill has been mandated to prepare school and law enforcement in the unlikely event of a school shooting, said Mick Epperly, Barry County sheriff.
"It's basically nationwide," said. "We've done it for the last three years."
While it's not your standard fire or tornado drill and one parents, school staff and law enforcement hope will never happen, all agree the drill is an important preparation.
"The drill consists of exercises we go through to help prepare school and law enforcement in the event of a shooting," Epperly said. "We all learn how to get in and out safely and to try to take care of the bad guy.
"It's good training for my officers and the [Special Weapons And Tactics] team. We're trying to familiarize our schools so we know the rooms and layout so if this disaster happened we can be better prepared, and get the children and teachers out safely."
The drill began with officers, some of whom were carrying machine guns and high-powered rifles, securing the premises and scouring the area searching for the shooter. Teachers were instructed to remain in their classrooms, lock the doors, and communicate by a special code unique to each school.
"In the event of a real shooting, parents would not be allowed on or in the premises, but would be instructed to contact the media for information, and children would be bussed to a predetermined safe area once the situation was contained," Epperly said. "If parents were to get a call in the next 10 minutes saying there's been a shooting at one of the schools, parents should not go to the school because personnel will not let them in. That can really hinder what's going on, because already we don't know who the bad guy is and we'd be trying to determine that. We have to take care of the problem first and as soon as the situation can be contained, we can start bussing students out to the safe area.
"That's going to be the hardest job -- keeping parents out. But, they've got to realize running in could make the situation even more chaotic. With a disaster, we could have several different media coming in. We'd have to have a liaison officer explain what is happening to the media who would relay information to parents."
Eppely said the ideal scenario is the law enforcement teams going in together like in the training, but in reality if this were to happen, the local officer would be called to the scene first and would be putting his life on the line until teams could arrive.
"It's a good learning experience," said Jacob Boles Wheaton police officer. "I've been in law enforcement 18 years, and this is the first time I've participated in one of these drills."
During the drill enactment, which was very realistic, three officers were portrayed to be shot.
"We're trying to make it as real a situation as possible because that's the way it's going to happen," Epperly said.
Reserve Officer Kevin Phillips portrayed the shooter for the exercise at Wheaton and Exeter schools.
"It was weird to aim a gun at another officer," he said. "While you hope it never will, it's good practice if it ever were to happen." Phillips, a recent Missouri Southern State University and police academy graduate, said the academy did not go over training for school shootings.
"We're learning our side from the sheriff's office, the school's learning their side, and then we're learning for all of us," he said. "We just hope we can save lives by being prepared."
The drill, which lasted about an hour, was followed by a review and discussion with teachers and staff in the gymnasium.
"It's one of those drills you hope you never have to use more so than any other," said Lance Massey Wheaton superintendent. "But, it's an exercise in today's society we as a school feel we need to do so that teachers and staff know some of the procedures and protocol if this situation were ever to occur.
"We appreciate Barry County law enforcement to put this into as real a situation as they possibly can and their assistance," said Barry County Detective Robert Evenson, who participated in the drill. "We hope we never have to use it, but it's a good way to learn protocol and to be prepared."
The drill was also recently conducted at Exeter schools and the Shell Knob school. Cassville schools anticipates completing their drill in September.