Life or death.
That’s how Brownwood Police Chief Terry Nichols described the active shooter drill Tuesday morning at Brownwood High School, which involved dozens of officers from multiple law enforcement agencies along with other emergency response agencies, Brownwood Regional Medical Center and the Brownwood school district.
Other agencies included the Brownwood Fire Department, Lifeguard Ambulance, CERT, Brownwood Regional Medical Center, emergency management and San Marcos-based ALERRT (Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training), where Nichols previously worked.
Coby Briehn, program manager at ALERRT, served as an instructor and evaluator at Tuesday’s drill.
A Brownwood High School student played the role of a school shooter, and other students portrayed students who had been shot before police took out the shooter.
“The purpose was to bring all of our community partners together — police, fire, EMS, school district, hospital, emergency management — and get everybody together and practice some core skills that, Lord forbid we would never need in one of these situations,” Nichols said.
“It’s good to knock off the rust and practice these skills, and the things we hope we never have to do. But when we do, we’re going to need to be on our ‘A’ game, and this gives us a chance to practice that. We’ve got to work on these key skills because it really is life and death that we’re talking about. … It is the difference between somebody living and dying.”
A large group of officers and representatives of other emergency response agencies staged in the parking lot of First United Methodist Church, across the street from the high school, before the active portion of the drill began. Officers put away their sidearms and were issued training guns that will not shoot, and installed devices in their AR-15 rifles that rendered them incapable of shooting.
When the drill began, officers were told that someone had crashed a pickup into the high school. A pickup was parked near the building to simulate that incident.
Brownwood officer Kris Salazar rushed up to a crying and injured student, who have him fragmented information about what had happened. School personnel including Superintendent Dr. Joe Young arrived, and Young ordered the school placed on lockdown.
The driver of the pickup had gone inside and started shooting, and in the scenario, Salazar and school resource officer Fred Bastardo were wounded. Other officers entered the school and shot the student with the gun.
The scenario involved multiple activities in several locations as officers searched for other potential shooters and tended to wounded students. Firefighters and Lifeguard Ambulance personnel carried out wounded students on backboards and had to coordinate transporting 10 wounded students to Brownwood Regional Medical Center with only four ambulances available. Some of the wounded were transported in police cars.
After the drill, participants gathered back in the church parking lot, where Nichols and Briehn rehashed the scenario and described what had gone well and what needs work.
Nichols said a key area to “circle back on” was communication — “how we communicate with each other,” Nichols said. “When we communicate with each other, I think things work a lot smoother.”
A similar exercise was conducted in the Brownwood school district in July 2017.