Moments before the start of a preplanned active shooter training at Mills High School Wednesday morning, one could hear a pin drop in the school cafeteria.
With fake blood pooled on the floor and plastic chairs askew throughout the room, actors playing students and teachers were motionless on the floor or slumped over tables and chairs.
But all that changed when a man with a camouflage jacket standing in the cafeteria door fired a blank cartridge and ran across the room and down a hallway lined with textbooks. Yelling for help and moaning in pain, those sporting fake gunshot wounds came to life in their roles as the victims in a staged school shooting.
It’s a scene first responders hope they never encounter, but one they’re increasingly aware they need to prepare for, even though the circumstances could be different in countless ways.
Though he acknowledged the partnership between law enforcement and fire officials throughout the county is strong, Capt. Scott Kirkpatrick of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office emphasized the importance of drills like the training held Wednesday in ensuring first responders can work together to respond to the chaotic wake of a shooting.
“The more we practice with each other, the better we get, the quicker we get,” he said. “It’s really important to do these types of drills as often as we can.”
The four staged scenarios law enforcement and fire officials responded to at Mills High School Wednesday are part of an ongoing effort among first responders in the county to prepare for possible active shooter situations, said San Mateo County sheriff’s Detective Rosemerry Blankswade. Though their ability to conduct the drills is dependent on grant funding, she said the dozens of law enforcement and fire agencies throughout the county aim to coordinate them annually and involve as many agencies as possible.
Blankswade said officials started planning in November for the week’s worth of active shooter trainings held this week, and noted the majority of the trainings have been held at schools in recent years. In light of a July 28 shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival that resulted in the death of three young people and July 2 shooting that left two teens injured at The Shops at Tanforan mall in San Bruno, Blankswade acknowledged those involved in the trainings are well aware their preparation could save lives.
In leading a training Wednesday morning, San Mateo police Sgt. Anthony Riccardi emphasized the importance of communication between first responders as the scene of a shooting unfolds. Riccardi explained various formations rescue task forces can use to provide medical support and protection for shooting victims and the need to be aware that first responders from agencies cross the county will be arriving at the scene of a shooting should one occur in the county.
Though he noted the mutual response at the shooting at The Shops at Tanforan was largely executed well, Riccardi noted shooting incidents in the county as well as trainings have shown officials there is always room for improvement.
“You’re going to go to another one, they keep happening,” he said.
Blankeswade said officials have discussed working with local corporations and religious organizations to hold trainings in other settings as well, noting the important role community members can play in emergency situations as well.
“It takes a community really to prepare for this,” she said. “With anything, the more you practice, the better you get.”
As an intern for the San Mateo Police Department, Tyler Gonzales said he has volunteered as an actor at exercises held at other locations, such as Hillsdale High School and the San Mateo County Event Center. On Wednesday, Gonzales pretended to be a shooter in one of the Wednesday scenarios, later acting as a victim in subsequent scenarios. Though he acknowledged it can be scary to be a part of one of these scenes, he felt like it helped him understand ways he and other can stay safe if one of these situations ever plays out in real life.
“It’s never going to be like the real thing,” he said. “But I think this kind of helps us.”
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106