WOOSTER — With time to reflect on the active-shooter scenario held April 8 at Wooster High School, several observers shared their takeaways from the event.
“From my vantage point … police officers for the most part learn to act independently,” Sgt. Robert Merillat said, as an observer and with experience as Wooster’s police chief. The simulation was geared so road patrol officers arrived at the school one at a time to search for the shooter, clear the building of threats, and then search for survivors.
“When there are multiple officers, sometimes they are not as accustomed to acting as part of a team,” and provided additional training, Merillat said.
He noted mostly officers receive “team” training in SWAT, which not everyone has and “you can’t make every officer a SWAT member, but you could better train them in those tactics,” and especially in these sorts of situations.
“I was impressed with the efforts as far as planning,” Dave Smith, director of Medway Drug Enforcement Agency added. Smith, along with Medway agent Don Hall were two of many observers throughout the day’s event watching and learning. Smith said in the case of a real event, Medway’s regular officers would appear to help on scene, not undercover agents.
Smith said communication seemed to him to be an issue, which both squads worked through. He added additional training for everyone to get a handle on the school building is another area of improvement, especially when he de-briefed on the simulation with Wooster Chief Matt Fisher.
For Smith he added law enforcement officers practicing to escort fire personnel was good to see.
Capt. Doug Hunter with the Wayne County Sheriff’s office, said to him it was very apparent the officers were treating the scenario as if it were real life. He also lauded the department’s efforts, as well as Wooster City Schools’, for making the public aware of the scenario.
“It was very apparent to me the officers there were taking it very seriously … you could hear the excitement in their voices,” Hunter said.
But one criticism Hunter had was not that students didn’t grasp the seriousness of the scenario.
“As best as I could tell, most of the students never saw the gunman … in this case, at the end of the day they were back in the cafeteria eating lunch and talking with their friends,” Hunter said. “The reality of the situation perhaps wasn’t conveyed,” enough to students.
One thing he mentioned was students went back to their classrooms after the first scenario, where Hunter noted the perfect time to start the second scenario would have been while they were still in the hallways.
He added the Sheriff’s Office has no similar training exercises scheduled, but is looking into it.
“I think we live in a day and age where we realize these sorts of incidents can take place anywhere, from a school to church or a movie theater,” Hunter explained. “As such it’s important (for law enforcement and the public) to realize (that) and to constantly be making plans.”
Terry Grice, chief of police for the Montville Township Department in the Medina School District, also was an observer at Wooster High School.
In Medina, Grice said the district has seven elementary schools and a school resource officer at all of them. Grice’s department performed an active shooter scenario at one of the elementary schools, but school was not in session. Medina school buildings Blake and Waite elementary schools both are located in Montville Township.
“I will definitely bring that idea back,” Grice said, as he saw a real benefit for officers and the schools to have students involved. He also said the one drill in Wooster was “multi-faceted” to include fire and county personnel as well, instead of separate drills for each agency.
One thing Grice discussed with Fisher and Wooster Superintendent Michael Tefs was “we have a different way to access the buildings” and which Fisher said will be considered in the future.
“As a community, people in Wooster should be proud with the coordination. … I was impressed with the relationship with WPD and the schools,” Grice added.
Reporter Steve Huszai can be reached at 330-287-1645 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He is @GeneralSmithie on Twitter.
By STEVEN F. HUSZAI Staff Writer Published: April 22, 2013 4:00AM