‘This is only a drill’

Published 8:57 am Tuesday, June 29, 2010

WINDSOR – Bertie Middle School was under siege Saturday.

Not literally, but in a rapid deployment scenario designed to help law enforcement, emergency medical services and fire departments learn more about what could possibly happen if the school was taken hostage by two “shooters.”

The Windsor Police Department, Bertie County Sheriff’s Office, Bertie County Emergency Management and Roanoke-Chowan Community College worked together to offer a day-long training session for what could possibly take place in a rapid deployment scenario.

“Rapid deployment is different from what we normally do,” said Bertie County Emergency Management Coordinator Rickey Freeman. “In this scenario, we don’t have time to wait to set up a command post. The first three or four officers go in and look for the shooter.

“The object is to get in and get the shooter as quickly as possible,” he said. “Rapid deployment operates a little different.”

The rapid deployment drill, in which officers, fire department and EMS personnel simulate a scenario in which two shooters had begun firing inside Bertie Middle School, allowed for training of all involved. Bertie Memorial Hospital was also involved in the training exercise.

“We enacted a rapid deployment class several years ago,” Windsor Police Sgt. Ricky Morris said. “It’s mandated training in North Carolina.

“For the past year or so, we have wanted to provide a drill for training and in the past four months we were able to get it together,” he added.

In addition to providing the training for law enforcement, Sgt. Morris said it was important to bring in fire and rescue personnel.

“I thought we needed to get all emergency services to interact with each other and come together to help each other,” he said. “At an accident scene or fire, everyone has different jobs. In this situation, we all have one basic job.”

Sgt. Morris brought Freeman in during the planning stage and secured the use of the Bertie Middle School site through permission of the Bertie County Board of Education.

The training came under the leadership of Windsor Police Chief Rodney Hoggard, Bertie County Sheriff John Holley and Chief Deputy Greg Atkins. All three men said the training was necessary.

“I think it went very well,” Sheriff Holley said. “The different agencies had an opportunity to work together and to talk and share experiences.

“It was a good experience for everyone, especially fire and rescue,” he added. “We need to do more things together in the future because it helps everyone get on the same accord.”

Chief Hoggard said the drill was a good one, but added he hoped the next time it would be more realistic.

“The main reason I wanted to do this and include everyone is so everybody would have some idea of what rapid deployment is all about and what their role in the situation would be,” he said. “I was hoping it would be a little more realistic. It was good and I think realistic enough to show us where our problems could be if we don’t get them corrected.”

Chief Hoggard said he would like to see more emotion displayed because a real-life situation would have overflowing emotion from everyone involved, but he knew it was not possible to have that exact type of atmosphere.

“In a real-life scenario, you could have people shot and possibly dead,” he said. “There is even the possibility of officers being shot. There’s no way you can do it 100 percent. Overall, for the first time we’ve had a drill like this it went well. Next time we do one it will be even better.”

Chief Deputy Atkins said he thought the training was constructive for all those involved.

“I thought it was very constructive,” he said. “It was the most comprehensive drill of its nature we’ve done in this county. We’ve done it in segments, but never brought it together with law enforcement, fire, EMS and school personnel.”

Atkins said an incident of the type simulated Saturday was almost impossible to prepare for in an exact way.

“By its very nature, the response of this type will be very difficult to organize and prepare for,” Atkins said. “I think training and drills help show the most difficult aspects and some of the problems you encounter. Hopefully that will give you foresight in planning to deal with them before they actually happen.”

Bertie County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Kenny Cobb was one of the instructors of the law enforcement session and helped prepare the drill.

“I thought it went well,” Cpl. Cobb said. “It was the first time we’ve gone that in-depth with the training. It was good and needed training.”

Cpl. Cobb said he believed the biggest gain from the drill was people learning how important communication would be in such an incident.

“I’m glad Chief Hoggard, Sheriff Holley and Chief Deputy Atkins were able to work together to provide this training for everyone,” he said. “It was important for all of us.”

The classroom training during the morning session was conducted through Roanoke-Chowan Community College. Frank Timberlake served as lead instructor for the law enforcement group backed up by Sgt. Morris and Cpl. Cobb. Willie Davis was the lead instructor for EMS.

“We were contacted by the Windsor Police Department and Bertie County Sheriff’s Office to help coordinate the rapid response class,” said RCCC Instructor Wesley Liverman. “We hired the instructors and ran the class through Roanoke-Chowan Community College. We wanted to help coordinate it.”

Liverman said the training and drill were important and, he believed, helped everyone better understand what situations could be faced if it ever happened.

“It opened a lot of eyes about what could happen,” he said.

Liverman said the community college appreciated the work of Sgt. Morris and Cpl. Cobb as well as the backing of Sheriff Holley, Chief Deputy Atkins and Chief Hoggard.

“Everyone learned something from this drill,” he said.

Aulander Police Officer Jimmy Barmer and Bertie County Sheriff’s Office Det. Kenny Gilliam were able to switch sides for purposes of the drill, conducting themselves as the shooters.

Both said the drill was instructional and they felt aided law enforcement and others prepare.

“Overall, the officers did a great job,” Barmer said. “You can always improve, but they did a great job.”

“It’s something that was definitely needed,” Det. Gilliam added. “Anytime the guys have the opportunity to receive that type of good training, it’s a good idea. I enjoyed it a lot.”

Among those who participated in the training were the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office, Windsor Police Department, Aulander Police Department, Lewiston Woodville Police Department, Bertie County Emergency Management, Bertie County Schools, Bertie Rescue, Askewville EMS, Colerain EMS, Lewiston Woodville EMS, Windsor Fire Department, Askewville Fire Department, Blue Jay Fire Department, Perrytown Fire Department, Lewiston Woodville Fire Department, Powellsville Fire Department and Kelford Fire Department.

“I want to say a special thanks to everyone who participated,” Sgt. Morris said. “We appreciate them coming out on a hot day and spending the time training in rapid deployment so we could all learn together.”

The organizers also expressed appreciate to Liverman and Roanoke-Chowan Community College, Dr. Chip Zullinger of Bertie County Schools, Billy Wynn of the Gates County Emergency Management office, Patricia Madry, the retired Emergency Management Coordinator of Chowan County, Timberlake and Bertie Memorial Hospital.

“We were pleased with the drill and how everything rolled into place with the hands-on experience,” Sgt. Morris closed. “It taught everyone something they didn’t know. I think everyone got something out of it.”

The Windsor PD and Bertie County Sheriff’s Office are planning future training in the area of rapid deployment.