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Thursday, April 17, 2014
A member of the Niagara County Sheriff's Officer Emergency Response Team participates in a drill Wednesday morning at DeSales Catholic School. The Sheriff's Department was joined by Wright's Corners Vol. Fire Co. and some members of the Lockport Police Department for the drill. (PHOTOS BY HEATHER N. GRIMMER / CONTRIBUTOR)

To the uninformed observer it likely looked like hell was breaking loose at DeSales Catholic School Wednesday morning. Emergency vehicles were all around. Men in fatigues carrying semi-automatic weapons were parading about. A bloodhound and SWAT teams were wandering about the neighborhood.

But not to worry, DeSales students were all safe at home on Easter break. And the bloodhound, SWAT teams and emergency responders were merely training.

EMS and first responders attend to a "victim," Niagara
County K9 Officer Craig Beiter, who played the role of a
real life individual injured, alarmed, and yelling profusely
amidst the chaos and confusion of an active shooter
scenario Wednesday at DeSales.
The Niagara County Sheriff's Office Emergency Response Team, in conjunction with other local law enforcement divisions, used DeSales Catholic School to do a practice run on a "what if" scenario they hope they never have to do in real life — an active shooter inside a school.

Actually, there were three separate training exercises — two involving assailants inside the school and one involving suspects on the loose outside. In each scenario, law enforcement got their man.

In the first two scenarios, two assailants simulated an active shooter situation. Law enforcement and first responders were not told who, how many, or where they were in the building. As a result, the team was done before they knew it.

"We had two bad guys — but they didn't know that," Undersheriff Michael Filicetti said. "So they are still going through. It's a huge school. They've got the gymnasium and everything else. The role players were directing everybody ... kind of giving them pieces of information. When they started all they were told was that there were an active shooter in the school and the reports were there were two shooters. Each role player had a small piece of information to give them to try and direct them on where to go. So they really knew very little going into the situation."

The team moved through the halls of
DeSales Catholic School looking for an
unknown number of assailants.
The school itself played a large role in the exercise.

"In this school there's no easy way to get from point a to point b," Filicetti said. "That's why this school is a good place to practice. It allows so many different scenarios."

Ellen Roth, director of marketing and admissions at DeSales said they were glad to be able to offer the school up for a training grounds, but sad that such training was necessary.

"It's sad to say this is what has become an increased priority in education now, this was so different 20 years ago. Now this is something that administrators across the country focus on," Roth said.

"We were enthusiastic about the opportunity to participate because our school is a unique building and it's just become such a priority in education now for the safety of everybody in there," she added. "Everybody is horrified by what's been going on, but we're glad to know we can play a part in helping our local law enforcement and first responders in preparedness."

Involving first responders in the active shooter drill was a unique aspect of Wednesday's exercise. Medical personnel, flanked by armed guards, went into the school to assist "the wounded" at the same time law enforcement was searching for the suspects.

Niagara County Director of Emergency Services & Fire Coordinator Jonathan Schultz said, "It was the first time collectively dealing with everybody involved — fire, EMS, police — working together. Getting everybody together under a unified command structure so everybody's got a common operating picture."

A member of the ERT watches as
volunteer firefighters make their way
through the building.
"Everybody" included the Sheriff's Department, some members of the Lockport Police Department, the Emergency Response Team, and Wrights Corner Vol. Fire Co.

In previous drills they found that clearing an entire building before allowing first responders and medics entry meant significant time lapses in getting aid to injured individuals that could have meant life or death for some.

In the outside scenario, a scent was laid and a bloodhound was brought out to track the scent and find the scenario's single fleeing suspect, while the SWAT team followed, clearing potential threats through the neighborhood. Once the suspect was caught, both he and the vehicle he was caught in were searched and cleared, and the suspect taken into custody.

Another unique aspect of Wednesday's drill was explained by Sheriff's K9 Officer Craig Beiter. He said that "simulation rounds" were used by police. Those are colored soap made out of a real shell casing with a plastic head. This allowed the SWAT team to see whether they hit or missed. They do hurt and will draw blood and leave a welt if hit on bare skin, as happened with one of the "bad guys," who was hit in the face by a simulation round, leaving a gash in his cheek.

The bad guys, meanwhile, were using blanks.

Every single person was safety checked prior to going into the building to make sure no one had live rounds. All mags were left outside to prevent any accidental firing. This included all police, EMT, fire, media and volunteers.

Helping out were numerous amateur actors, comprised of volunteers, teachers and parents affiliated with the school. They played the roles of victims and innocent bystanders during the scenarios.

A simulation round lay on the floor at DeSales Catholic School. 

-- More photos from the training exercise are available by clicking here. --


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