Active shooter exercise puts Sedalia, Pettis County responders to the test

Leaders of public safety agencies gather around a whiteboard in a Sedalia Fire Department vehicle to create plans for an active shooter exercise at Smith-Cotton High School. Sedalia Police Chief Matt Wirt, second from left, led the command at the scene.

Area first responders and the Sedalia School District 200 will conduct a training crisis response exercise next week. 

The Sedalia Police Department, Pettis County Sheriff’s Office, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Sedalia Fire Department and Pettis County Ambulance District will facilitate a full-scale drill for a fictitious active shooter situation from 8 a.m. to noon July 23 at the Smith-Cotton Junior High School, 312 E. Broadway Blvd.

“What this does is it brings us all together which allows us to test our plans, our techniques, our tactics, our procedures and gets everybody on the same page in the same playing field, in a completely safe, no-fault environment,” said Pettis County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. John Cline, who is the Smith-Cotton High School resource officer. 

The agencies hosted their first exercise at Smith-Cotton High School last year and Cline said they are planning on performing it at a different location each year.

“No two responses are the same. We’ll rotate it from the high school, to the junior high, to the middle school, and then around to the elementary schools in the years to come,” he said. “We hope to be able to do it on an annual basis. All the stakeholders that are involved, we all feel that it is important and we need the refresher. We need the testing of all of those plans, communications, and all of that.”

Cline and stakeholders from other agencies do research over the year and write up the simulation. Each simulation is different and the plan is to make each year more challenging. 

“In a lot of the training approaches, we have to crawl before we can walk and we have to walk before we can run. As this goes into the future we’ll make things a little more complicated, a little more complex, to really put our folks and the equipment to the test,” he said. “We crawled last year, this year we’re going to walk and next year we’re going to run.” 

The departments started the exercise last year after people within the involved departments started to show interest in it. There was also a growing concern in the community. 

“I think the public and parents expect, of not only emergency responders but also the school district, that we do everything that we possibly can in order to prepare,” Cline said. 

“We do everything that we can during normal operations to make sure that this doesn't happen and we have other procedures in place for threat assessment and identification and things like that. People think that it is important and I think this is something that the public expects from us.”

The agencies will host a debriefing after the exercise to discuss what went well and what needs improvement. In the months after the exercise, the agency leaders will write an after-action report for their department. Those individual reports will then be compiled into one consolidated report for all the agencies to look at.

Cline cautioned that citizens should expect to see emergency response vehicles, emergency response members, officers with tactical equipment, and role players. There will also be blank rounds being fired from simulated weapons and sirens. Cline stressed that it will all be a simulation. 

“It will look like an actual response, but we just want to reassure folks that it is training. In order to do that training properly we have to respond in the way that we would actually respond to a real incident,” said Cline. 

Last year’s exercise went well, according to Cline. He hopes that the community knows that they take their jobs seriously.

“Folks are just concerned about it and we don’t want any kid to be afraid to go to school and we don’t want any parent to be afraid to send their kids to school,” said Cline. “We just want the public to know and understand that we are doing everything that we possibly can to not only prevent this type of incident but, God forbid, that if it does happen that we’ll be able to respond to it quickly and effectively and minimize the casualties and damage.”

The Smith-Cotton Junior High campus will be closed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and traffic will be blocked at the school and grounds. The FEMA and Fine Arts building will still be open for their scheduled activities.

For more information, contact Cline at 660-827-0052 or Sedalia-Pettis County Emergency Management Agency Director Trisha Rooda at 660-827-4800. 

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