How prepared is Walton County, Ga. for a mass casualty event like a school shooting?

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As Florida continues to mourn the death of the 17 teachers and students who lost their lives in the latest tragic school shooting, local authorities around the country are taking a hard look at how prepared they are to deal with such an event.

In Walton County, Ga., while praying that it will never be put to use, public safety officially continually train to make sure they are prepared for any mass casualty event that may happen. In November last year, almost a week was devoted to training for an event such as the one that took place in Parkland, Fla. on Valentine’s Day.

“We trained for a mass shooting in a school, at a church, and even at a business,” said Capt. Jeff Allen with Walton County Fire Rescue.

The crews involved in the training, which took place in an old vacant school building that particular week, included personnel from WCFR and police and fire crews from the City of Monroe. Students from the WCFR training program and explorers played the roles of victims and the stage was set for an exercise in disarming an intruder and triaging and evacuating victims from the building. Despite it being an exercise, it was realistically portrayed and gave an eye-opening insight as to just how frightening such an event would be. Student victims were given cards to indicate the level of their injuries and how they would be tagged in a real situation. Capt. Jack Armstrong explained what the color tags mean.

“Green is good, yellow is injured, red is crital and black means that person is deceased,” Armstrong said. “In a real world situation sometimes someone could be tagged black eventhough they are still alive, but you have to make a decision as to who can realistically be saved.”

WCFR firefighter John Webster, who was previously with Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services, said he was passionate about the training as he had been involved with it in Gwinnett County. He invited Sgt. Justin Guck with Gwinnett County Police Department to offer advice and critique the training for Walton County.

“He is why I am passionate about it. This man, along with other people at Gwinnett County, came up with a standard that Homeland Security now uses,” Webster said. “Gwinnett County was the driving force with this and because I was with (Guck) as a lead instructor with Gwinnett it enabled me to have a passion for this. So when I retired from Gwinnett in 2016, I was lucky enough to bring it here to Walton County.”

Guck said Walton County too has been proactive in its approach to making sure that the public safety officials are trained and prepared should the need ever arise.

“They asked us to come out and look at what they’re doing and give them any critiques that we may have and that’s why we’re here – helping out in any way we can,” Guck said. “We’re neighboring agencies and if anything were to happen, we would need to work with neighboring agencies so it is good for us to all be on the same page with our training.”

Warning: The video below contains some of the scenes from the Walton County public safety training from November 2017. Although it is just a reenacement, it could be disturbing to someone who has gone a through similar real life event.

WCFR also is working with schools and churches and any other business or organization that is interested in the “Stop the Bleed” program after receiving a grant for the kits.

“We have all but two schools trained in the “Stop the Bleed” program.  The kits for six schools were delivered last week from the Ga Trauma Commission,” Allen said, adding that Sharon Elementary School took the extra step to train all of their staff. “Teachers, admin, janitors…everyone. We decided to dole out what we have on hand to all the schools who have completed the training. That’s all but four, because we haven’t completed the training in those schools. We chose to do so a little earlier than planned, before we had all of the kits delivered. We will complete our deliveries as we get additional kits in.”

Allen said in the light of the Florida school shooting, they thought it was imperative to get the kits out as soon as possible. He said right now all but one high school that has yet to complete the training have sets of 12 kits each and the elementary school should soon have five sets each.

“Each kit contains multiple bleeding control devices and equipment, including a Combat-application tourniquet (CAT), various bandages, tools and gloves. Each school ultimately receives 12 kits in the grant, but many of the schools and even some of the individual teachers have elected to purchase additional kits beyond the grant.”

Allen said in these cases many of the casualties are because emergency services can’t get in to perform life saving treatment in time. Programs like training other people in such things as how to stop the bleeding in the meantime gives the victims more of a chance to make it out alive.

While being prepared to deal with any incident is essential, parents are hoping that local schools will also look at ways to prevent anything happening in the first place. Jennifer Marzec, a Loganville High School parent who has had problems with threats and bullying issues, shared some of the information about her situation on social media and was surprised that her post had gone viral. She said she has since been contacted by the school as well as by local police officers and was glad that officials were taking it seriously. A letter also was sent out from Loganville High School to parents.

“Due to recent national events, we want to reach out and remind all of our parents that safety is the top priority at LHS. We continue to take all leads, situations and threats with the utmost seriousness. We work closely with local law enforcement and district staff to thoroughly investigate all situations. We strongly encourage students, parents and staff members to immediately report anything that makes them uncomfortable to a teach or administrator,” the letter signed by LHS principal Mike Robison read.

Because of privacy issues, however, school officials often can’t share specifics with parents and that can be frustrating. Mazec said she found one of her daughter’s in tears recently, not necessarily about her situation, but just saying she wished everyone could get along.

“To me it is about the bullying as a whole,” Marzac said, adding her daughter just wanted everybody to be nice to each other. “All I could say was, ‘I know and unfortunately we can’t control that. But remember not every kid goes home to someone that says I love, that says I’m proud of you. Not everyone goes home to a warm bed and a hot meal. It isn’t our place to judge them for what they’ve done wrong, but to love them thru that. In the meantime though, we have to make sure that the kids who take it beyond that are protected too, even if it means protecting them from themselves.’”

Mazec said she would like to see more security at the high schools, and would be prepared to help raise funds for the equipment if that would help. She also would like to work with teachers or administrators as a parent liaison on policies that may help.

In other school districts, discussion are now ongoing as to whether more teachers or school personnel should be armed. Walton County Public Schools have armed school resource officers on most of the campuses.


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