Cullman first responders practice safe school drills

Members of the Cullman Police Department's Tactical Unit and Cullman Fire Rescue took part in active shooter drills at East Elementary on Wednesday. (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – With the new school year right around the corner, there are lots of things for students, teachers, parents and administrators to think about, including school safety. The Cullman Police Department (CPD) has been thinking about school safety as well and has spent time this summer preparing for emergency situations on local campuses. It stopped by East Elementary School (EES) Wednesday to run drills on active shooter situations, and CPD Lt. Jason Mickle said he was happy to get on campus and start working with different departments as well as the unit.

“With our tactical unit we train every month, about 16 hours a month, and today what we’re working on is our response to an active shooter event and how we would support our patrol units because more than likely, if we had an active shooter event here in Cullman, our patrol would be the first people to respond,” Mickle said. “Our response time to get our team together and get organized is 45 minutes to an hour before we can respond. So, a lot of what we would be doing would be in a support role coming up here after the fact. Something else we’re doing today is integrating with our fire department and Cullman EMS to try and get all three disciplines working together so that if we had something like this happen in Cullman, we could work together better.”

The first goal for law enforcement in these situations is pretty obvious, but it’s what comes next after the danger has been removed that Mickle is excited to work on.

“Our primary focus as law enforcement is to stop the killing. If there is somebody on campus and they’re committing an act like this, our first job is to stop them. Once that’s done, we have to transition into working with the fire department and EMS to get people get treated as quickly as we can and getting that taken care of,” Mickle said. “A lot of this today will also be going over some tactics and going over some ‘what-if’ scenarios and a lot of it is just working together and getting to know the faces. We’ve got a good relationship with EMS and our fire department, but we don’t get to train together all the time, so this is a chance to kind of get two birds with one stone.”

Perhaps the biggest advantages of the exercises local law enforcement has been running this summer is that the departments will become very familiar with the school campuses in town and more familiar with the people working on them.

“It’s very important and we encourage our officers whenever they can to come up here and walk through the schools and that’s what we try to do every summer with our tactical unit,” Mickle said. “That way we know the layout and kind of know where everything is before we go in there, so we’ve got a better picture of what we’re going to face if something like this were to happen.”

EES Principal David Wiggins is very excited to have the drills on campus and while he prays that they never need this experience in the future, he knows it’s important to be prepared.

“Sgt. (Chris) Thomason called yesterday wanting to know if they could hold an active shooter drill here at the school and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ We want to do anything we can to support local law enforcement. I confirmed with Dr. (Susan) Patterson of course and it was OK with her and she also wants to support the Cullman Police Department. But the bigger picture is, it allows law enforcement to have a better understanding of the layout of our building,” Wiggins said. “Unfortunately, it’s a new world and we have to prepare for such incidents and while we don’t like that we have to, we’re going to do what we have to do for our kids. My children go here. So, it’s going to be safe enough for everyone’s child and we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can and we’ll get some good feedback from them on some of our school procedures and policies regarding safety and we’ll get to watch on our cameras how they go through and clear a building. It’ll give them familiarity with our nooks and crannies and each doorway and hallway so we’re going to tour the buildings when they’re done.”

CPD has also been doing work with student resource officers at local schools this summer and Wiggins was able to let law enforcement review the school’s emergency procedures.

“This is the second day straight that we’ve had the pleasure of having Cullman Police Department here with our staff. Yesterday we had (Capt.) Becky Boyd, who is over the Student Resource Office (SRO) Program, along with Lt. Harbison, and they talked to us about our safety drills, what kind we had and frequency. We gave them a copy of our schedule and they’re going to be invited to come witness our safety drills. We talked about our lockdown procedures in the event of an intruder on campus and talked about how SROs can further support the schools. It was a wonderful meeting and I’m just excited that for two days straight we’ve had the opportunity to have these people on campus.”

Wiggins continued, saying that maintaining a great relationship between schools and law enforcement is paramount.

“Chief (Kenny) Culpepper has been so involved in our school safety plan. He came by last summer and gave us some new resources to be used in case of an emergency and he’s always quick to offer advice. We’ve even had the police and fire departments opening car doors for students, that’s how involved they are,” Wiggins smiled. “It creates a great sense of community and our SRO, Officer (Rick) Thiot, in particular throws Frisbee with the kids, he has lunches with certain kids, just to form those relationships because SRO’s absolutely matter in schools. So, that relationship is critical to us. As administrators Mr. (Nic) Gragg and I both go annually to the Save Schools Conference through TAASRO, The Alabama Association of School Resource Officers, just to hone our skills and better secure our facilities.”

With just a couple more weeks until students return to class, Wiggins is thrilled to have local law enforcement on campus helping prepare for the safest year possible.

“I love how supportive our superintendent is of having this kind of drill here,” Wiggins said. “I know they’ve done it at the high school in the past and I’m just delighted that little East Elementary gets to be a part of this because again, it’s good training for their people but it’s outstanding to have them on our site so they will know where things are unfortunately in case of an emergency. We’re just happy to have them here.”  

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