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Training for the 'worst day'

The police officers moved swiftly down the hallway in a tight, tactical formation, weapons drawn, and approached the sound of gunshots coming from a classroom. Stepping over the body of a wounded student, they confronted the attacker, shooting him down in a hail of plastic BBs.

The bullets may have been fake, but the scene at the Aubrey ISD Administration Building was deadly serious Monday afternoon as local police and emergency responders conducted active shooter training.

“The goal is for all of us to be able to work together if we ever have Aubrey’s worst day, which we hope we never do,” said Aubrey ISD police Chief Scott Collins, who hosted the event.

Officers from the Pilot Point, Aubrey and Aubrey ISD police departments participated in the training, along with members of the Aubrey Fire Department. Members of the Little Elm Police Explorers, a program for young adults interested in law enforcement, played the role of shooting victims.

Aubrey ISD administrative offices are housed in what was once the district’s high school and then its middle school. The unused hallways and classrooms served as the perfect training ground for the joint training session.

“We back each other up so often, it’s nice to be able to train in the environment that we would be in,” Collins said.

Officers ran through various scenarios tailored to the Pilot Point and Aubrey school districts. In the event a shooting takes place in an area school, it will be the school resource officer and local patrol officer who are first on the scene.

Before each scenario played out, Collins would brief the team on who was “in play” and “out of play” so the officers would know who to interact with. The team would know nothing else and would be dispatched to a call at a school with shots fired inside. Collins would then assign one or more shooters and victims and explain their roles.

In a school shooting, officers arrive to a frantic and unpredictable scene. Innocent people may not respond to police commands or they may frantically run toward the responders. Officers may receive bad information, they may find victims they can’t help right away, and there may be one shooter or two.

It would be a chaotic scene where civilians would be completely dependent on the good guys knowing what they are doing.

Lt. William Townsend of the Aubrey Police Department acted as the bad guy for a few of the scenario runs. About 10 minutes in, he described what would be happening in a real event.

“While this is going on, you got about 300 sets of parents showing up, you have nine different camera trucks demanding that they know what’s going on, you have the neighbors from across the street showing up and it turns into a giant chaotic scene,” Townsend said. “And cops are type A personalities who want to get in here to help, and sometimes the best way to help is to be out there on the perimeter to direct people.”

Townsend, who has already participated in active shooter training multiple times, assisted Collins in the instruction of the other officers. During a briefing, he didn’t shy away from the reality of the day’s subject matter.

“We all understand that dead kids are traumatic, but at the same time, if you have an active shooting situation, you have to step over that body and go for that shooter,” Townsend said. “As crappy as that seems, you stop that shooter first.”

The first couple of runs were rough, but officers improved with each scenario, eventually moving through the hallways with precise coordination and communication. During a debriefing following an early run, Collins said it’s important to make mistakes now instead of when it would be too late.

“This is why we train so that when we make mistakes, we have failures, they happen here. It’s okay to fail,” Collins told the officers.

Collins said it is unlikely for a shooter to attack inside a school in the Aubrey ISD and that the district’s security procedures and controlled-access entrances would probably block anyone wishing to do harm from entering any of the buildings. But he wants the public to know that local police are prepared for the worst.

“In today’s society, you can never not be prepared,” Collins said. “Our goal is to train for the worst case scenario and hope it never happens.”

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