Police conduct drill at BP High School

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Alfonso Valdez, Garfield High Class of 1950, remembers earthquake drills, fire drills, and even air raid drills. Friday, Valdez volunteered at Buena Park High School to help with an “active shooter incident drill,” something he never thought would be necessary.

“It’s terrible…the need for these sorts of things. But you have to prepare to avoid, he said.”

Alfonso Valdez, Garfield High Class of 1950, remembers earthquake drills, fire drills, and even air raid drills. Friday, Valdez volunteered at Buena Park High School to help with an “active shooter incident drill,” something he never thought would be necessary.

“It’s terrible…the need for these sorts of things. But you have to prepare to avoid, he said.”

The Buena Park Police Department and Orange County Fire Authority came together on Friday morning, to “rehearse” the procedure and protocol in the event of an active shooter on school grounds.

Using Buena Park High School as the site for the drill, it was the first of its kind to be performed at an Orange County high school.

Buena Park students were on spring break during the exercise, keeping them out of harm’s way and safe from accidents, as explained by Bret Carter, SWAT hostage negotiator. Using M16 assault rifles adapted to fire blanks, Carter played the part of one of two “active shooters” in the drill.

Initiating the start of the simulation with two shots, Carter and his counterpart entered the home economics room, filled with approximately 25 volunteers. Acting as students, teachers, and eventual patients, the volunteers, teenage Police Explorers and Citizens Assisting Police (CAP), were directed to “be realistic.”

Cries, pleas for help, and convincing shrieks could be heard coming from the classrooms.  Marisal DeLeon, 18-year-old Buena Park High School student and police explorer volunteer, says the shooter imitation doesn’t scare her.

“I get to help my community, and represent the city. It’s important… it allows the police and fire department to better understand the school and how to navigate in this situation.”

Captain Steve Concialdi says that this kind of drill has been in the works for years. The 1999 Columbine High School massacre saw numerous students who bled to death, as did many shooting incidents that followed. Concerned that gunshot patients die within 15 to 30 minutes, the Orange County Fire Authority bought individual trauma kits for every on-duty fire personnel to bring to the scene, with a grant they received.

The Orange County Police Sheriff Association (OCPSA) approved a change in policy allowing firefighters and paramedics to go down range into the “warm zone” with protection of law enforcement. Law enforcement provides 360-degree protection around firefighters and paramedics, called “forced protection.”

Allowing the firefighters to enter the scene earlier than in past situations, the Orange County Fire Authority has trained all 1,000 firefighters over the last 18 months.

A fairly new concept, the fire department is now cross-trained with the police department to treat injured at the scene. Captain Concialdi describes this integration as “cutting edge.”

Orange County is one of few counties in the nation doing this sort of synthesis.

Captain Rocha, Fullerton Fire Department, says the drill allows “all different agencies to get all of the players involved… to run through the motions, provide the best service, and integrate smoothly.”

Local hospitals were also involved in the drill, in an attempt to better prepare for a multiple-victim situation, scattering patients across the county.

James Brandstetter, tactical dispatcher, explains his role as the liaison between the SWAT team and the commanders, relaying decisions and calls to the team, and communicating back to officers.

“It’s important to rehearse…to be clear and understand commands.”

Observing the drill, Kelvin Tsunezumi, assistant superintendent of the Buena Park Elementary School District, applauds the proactive drill, admitting that the threat of an active shooting on campus is something that everyone is worried about.

“It’s a matter of practicing what we need to do. If we don’t practice, we don’t know what we are doing right, and what we are doing wrong.”

The Orange County Fire Authority says they plan to continue these mock-scenarios throughout the county, forming a rotation of practicing regions, for the most effective multi-agency coordination.

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