7100 Davis Blvd, Naples, FL
COLLIER COUNTY — If Wednesday’s lockdown at an East Naples school had a soundtrack, it would have been the drone of the beep following “This is a test, this is only a test” announcements.
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management were two of nearly a dozen local agencies that participated in the simulation of a school shooter scenario at Seacrest Country Day School. The purpose of the simulation was to improve response and coordination among emergency personnel if a real event were to happen locally.
It was the first full-scale mock school crisis conducted in the county.
Though the exercise had been planned for several months, it happened the same day Tampa police discovered a teen’s plot to target a Hillsborough County high school. During a news conference, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor called the plot a “potentially catastrophic event the likes of which the city of Tampa has not seen and hopefully never will.”
It was also a day after South Fort Myers High School student Austin Craig, 17, was charged with possessing a weapon on school grounds. Authorities found an electronic weapon and BB gun in his car at the school on Tuesday.
“This was an enormous response, with literally (almost) every public safety agency in the county engaged,” Dan Summers, director of the Collier County Bureau of Emergency Services, said of Wednesday’s mock emergency.
The contrived scenario involved shooters, mass casualties, and hazardous materials. Firearms with blank bullets were used during the training exercise, and several pops were heard throughout the two-hour event.
The Collier County School Security Consortium organized the training session so agencies could better coordinate during a major event, despite very different priorities.
“Law enforcement and medical are two entirely different thought processes in the early minutes of the crisis,” Summers said. “Fire and EMS are not real familiar with law enforcement making initial entry ... It’s in our DNA to start medical care immediately, but we’ve got evidence preservation to address.”
SWAT teams from the county as well as the Naples Police Department also participated in the scenario, which involved two volunteers playing the role of shooters and scores of students and adults, including Seacrest faculty and staff, acting as victims.
Though participants were briefed on protocols and students were informed of what the different emergency personnel would look like in their gear, teachers and staff were not fully aware of what would occur in order to also train them on how to react in an emergency.
In all, more than 100 civilians and 80 to 90 emergency personnel participated, Summers said. Additionally, observers from private schools and out-of-county public safety agencies watched the events on site, said Kristi Lester, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office.
While the scenario unfolded inside the Seacrest campus, deputies lined Davis Boulevard and County Barn Road, securing the school’s entrances. No roads were blocked.
Seacrest, a private school with about 600 students, volunteered to be the first location for this type of exercise.
“Seacrest is doing it’s due diligence for an emergency that could happen,” said Karl Salathé, director of institutional advancement at the school. “It’s as realistic as you can get without being a real incident.”
In the event of a real lockdown, Summers said individual school safety policies would dictate how students would be reunited with parents.
Staff photojournalist Tristan Spinski contributed to this report.