Hall County Schools conducted its third active shooter drill in the past three weeks on Friday, this time at Cherokee Bluff Middle School.
The drill lasted about 25 minutes, and the scenario involved a shooter who had entered the building and opened fire on students, killing some and injuring others. The shooter was ultimately “neutralized,” meaning shot and killed.
The shooter drills come in the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May that killed two teachers and 19 children.
Andy Betancourt, head of Hall County Schools security, said they have not made any changes to their security plans based on the shooting, but they are fine-tuning the plans they have.
Both Gainesville City Schools and Hall County Schools have allocated an additional $1 million for security. Hall officials say they will use the money in a variety of ways, from mental health training to building vestibules at schools without them, as well as purchasing biometric gun safes used to store rifles that deputies could use in an active shooter situation.
Media were not allowed inside during the drill, but were able to observe cops running up and entering the front of the building, and injured “students” limping or being carried out before being tended to by emergency medical workers. The “students” in this scenario were Brenau University medical students, some of whom had fake blood covering parts of their faces and bodies.
“We don't mind discussing what the scenario was, but we're not going to discuss our actions or our response to it,” said Lt. Greg Cochran of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.
School and law enforcement officials have declined to divulge details about tactics or operations, worrying that doing so might make it easier for a shooter to carry out an attack.
Under Georgia law, every public school is required to develop a security plan and conduct safety drills. The school system partners with the Hall County Emergency Management Agency and the Hall County Sheriff’s Office in creating and reviewing its security plans.
“They really look at them with a fine-toothed comb,” Betancourt said. “And if they see anything that they think we need to change, we work with them and change it.”
After the drill was over, Casey Ramsey, director of Hall County’s Emergency Management Agency, described the scenario.
“We had somebody that just came in the building, opened fire,” he said. “So throughout that process they moved around the building … people were injured, some were deceased, some had life-threatening injuries.”
During the drill, more than a dozen cop cars responded, lining up on the street just before the steep driveway that leads to the front of the school. There were two fire trucks and an ambulance in the bus parking lot at the side of the building.
As for who takes charge during an active shooter situation, Cochran said, “The person in charge is the first person that arrives.”
But as multiple agencies arrive, their personnel will take charge of “their own discipline,” he said.
“You will have fire department personnel, you will have school officials,” he said. “All those people are in charge but of their own discipline. … You have the law enforcement officers in charge of the law enforcement mechanism, and you have the fire department who's in charge of the treatment and care of these individuals, and you have the school officials who are also in charge of handling communications for parents and things like that.”
Again, school officials said they have not changed their security plans based on the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde.
On July 17, a three-member Texas House of Representatives Committee published the most complete account of the shooting.
The 77-page report found “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making,” and criticized law enforcement’s hesitancy in engaging the shooter.
Both school and law enforcement officials have been reluctant to criticize the response to the shooting in Uvalde, withholding judgment until the “full report” comes out.
“I’m not going to judge anybody until I know everything, but I'll tell you this,” Cochran said. “We’ve got some of the best guys around, and we train all the time, and I think we have a good relationship with the schools.”
“I don't think you're gonna see hesitation on our end, I’ll say that.”
The House report also found that “Robb Elementary had a culture of noncompliance with safety policies requiring doors to be kept locked, which turned out to be fatal.” According to the report, it was widely known that the classroom door through which the shooter entered had a faulty lock, but no one submitted a work order to have it fixed.
Hall school officials said they will conduct more “stealth” checks to make sure schools are locking their doors. In May, Superintendent Will Schofield said that well above 90% of their doors were found to be locked.