JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Sheriff’s Office and first responders came together this week to play out a scenario no one hopes will ever happen.
The exercise? An “active shooter” simulation at the Ashe County Courthouse designed to prepare emergency responders, police officers and courthouse employees on what to do in case the unthinkable ever happens.
The drill featured deputies searching through the courthouse for a shooter as well as securing locations where emergency medical teams were needed to treat any injured citizens and employees.
Ashe Medics and rescue squads used the opportunity to practice situations with multiple injuries and how to quickly and efficiently help those in need.
“The more you practice anything, the more prepared you are. We have to be ready in case something does happen and we’re not running around blind,” Williams said. “I think all in all, it went good. I think we identified some areas that need to be worked on as far as communication and notification in the courthouse itself.”
Ashe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill’s evaluation of the drill?
“Overall, it went well and it gave us things to think about, things that need to be addressed,” Gambill said. “The Sheriff’s Office response went well and they had the ‘shooter’ down in minutes. You can’t ask for any better response than that.”
But Williams and Gambill each said communication between responding agencies and even among counties employees will be tweaked in action plans going forward.
Williams said one of the setbacks involved courthouse employees that couldn’t hear the simulated gun fire when it began. Those employees were unaware they needed to enter their designated safe room, he said. Gambill also pointed out a breakdown in communication by employees on different floors of the court house.
“When you’re dealing with different phone systems, it’s challenging,” Gambill said. “But overall I think it was a good experience for the employees. They’d read the plan on paper but they hadn’t experienced anything like this. In this case they actually went into lockdown and initiated the plan.”
For Gambill, actually rehearsing the proper response in an emergency is vital. It helps everyone involved in a stressful situation to understand what their role in an emergency is. Critically, courthouse employees also gained an understanding of how other agencies would respond to a crisis.
And the setbacks? Gambill said she was glad to see them emerge.
“You should never expect an exercise to go as planned,” Gambill said. “Otherwise it wouldn’t be effective. This way you learn something you can go back and address.”
Williams also echoed the importance of state and federal grants that Gambill has been able to obtain over the years to make these exercises possible.
“Everyone involved from Ashe Medics, rescue squads and volunteers, we appreciate all of it,” said Williams.
Nathan Ham can be reached at 336-846-7164 or followed on Twitter @NathanHam87