Police visit Watkins for safety lesson, not security breach

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 1, 2010



LAPLACE – St. John the Baptist Parish residents who were traveling along River Road near Emily C. Watkins Elementary School early last week might have seen a swarm of police, fire and emergency vehicles in the LaPlace school’s parking lot, but Sheriff’s officials say it was nothing to be concerned about.

The buzz of activity was all part of live action simulation of an active shooter scenario within a school. The drill, which was executed last Monday morning, incorporated all facets of response to an event of that nature.

“We have always done tabletop drills with response teams, but we had never gotten the chance to go out and practice the exercise,” said Maj. Chuck Bazile, a Special Operations Response Team commander for the Sheriff’s Office. “This was the first real world drill we have ever executed in St. John, and it was extremely successful.”

Bazile explained that the exercise involved a scenario where someone outside of the school comes in armed with weapons and opens fire. In this case, two teachers who had been terminated returned to the school and starting shooting. He said the exercise used about 60 students from East St. John High School, as well as about 13 faculty and staff members from Emily C. Watkins.

“They did a great job with everything,” Bazile said of the scenario’s actors. “They took their roles seriously and gave us a good show, if you will.”

Bazile said the drill involved multiple agencies working together with fire officials, emergency medical technicians, railroad officials and the coroner all playing roles. The drill also brought in law enforcement from State Police and other surrounding sheriff’s offices.

“Communication between different agencies is always a great concern and this gave us the chance to utilize our radio system,” Bazile said. “Various agencies can communicate all around the state on a common channel. It worked very smoothly.”

Each agency involved had a different thing being tested on them, Bazile said. The drill offered each unit the opportunity to look at procedures and adjust as needed. As far as the St. John Sheriff’s Office is concerned, Bazile said his fellow officers were being tested on training learned during a smaller scale scenario over the summer at East St. John High School.

Deputies from the traffic, patrol, detective, narcotics and felony intercept divisions were all part of a 16-hour training exercise to help them handle a scenario where an active shooter is on the run in a public building.

“It is hard to tell who will be on the scene first in a situation like this,” Bazile said. “It was encouraging to see guys from other divisions working together to secure the scene and prepare for the special response team to come in.”

Bazile said he hopes to continue conducting drills of this fashion on a more regular basis to keep the training fresh in everyone’s minds.

“It takes up quite a bit of time and resources, but we would like to conduct a drill at least every other year,” Bazile said.