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Preparing for the unthinkable — county agencies train active school-shooter scenarios

Law enforcement agencies and first responders from across the county were at University High School throughout the day Friday working on their strategies, tactics and communications in the event of an active-shooter situation. Students were not in school during the drill due to a professional learning and faculty senate day.

Monongalia County Sheriff Perry Palmer said they have been thinking about holding a county-wide training since last year, after several school shootings in other areas of the country.

Palmer said his department contacted Adam Henkins, who is in charge of safety with the Monongalia County Board of Education, to coordinate the training.

“He said the school board would be on board, definitely, with anything we wanted to do,” Palmer said. “So, then we reached out to all the other municipalities and departments and came together.

“Everybody brings an expertise, so we met — had three or four meetings — got together and decided this would be a good thing for the whole county,” Palmer said.

Specific details on the training and drills could not be divulged, but Cpt. Swain, with the University Police Department, said in general, during the exercise they were trying to get “a baseline training to make sure everybody is together and understands what’s going on and how we work together. So, if an active-shooter situation does happen, all the agencies that may respond are going to understand how we work together to successfully eliminate whatever threat we have.”

Officials on scene did discuss a useful tool at UHS that can provide them with key intelligence during any sort of emergency in the school. The MECCA 911 dispatch center, as well as its mobile command unit, has the ability to tap into the video surveillance cameras at the high school to get real-time views on where they need to focus their efforts.

Morgantown Police Chief Eric Powell said that kind of data is vital for law enforcement to have on scene at the time of an incident.

“It really gives us the opportunity to remotely see what is going on more precisely and address a specific situation within an area that we may not be familiar with right off the bat,” Powell said. “That way we can more quickly go to the actual threat and meet it head-on and not have to be searching and trying to figure it out as we go through.”

Throughout the training day, teams were sent into the school with training weapons. Some teams were given assistance using the cameras and some were left to navigate without them since not all schools in the county are equipped with the higher-level cameras.

Palmer reiterated the importance of having all agencies that could be involved or called to the scene during an active-shooter scenario — MECCA 911, Mon EMS and all the Mon County law enforcement agencies — training together.

“Like I said, everybody brings an expertise that another department may not know,” he said. “So, with everybody being on scene and with safety people involved, they will be able to go back over things later to see what needs to be improved, what works good, and continue to do this.”

Powell said MPD is working with the BOE and others to try to facilitate another active-shooter drill but could not reveal much at this time, as the details have not been finalized. He did say the location they are looking at for the next training will not be equipped with the same camera system, which will give them opportunity to go through the scenario without that added dimension.

Additional training will also provide another opportunity for agencies to practice how they respond and interact with one another while evaluating the things they are lacking, the things they are good at, and evaluate how they react and respond, he said.

“The better off we are and the more familiar we are with everybody working together, the more successful we will be in keeping all of our students, faculty and staff safe,” Swain agreed. “The more we are able to do it, the better off we are going to be.”

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