[originally published at OpsLens, July 17, 2018.]
COLUMBIA, S.C. – A report of “active shooter” at a local elementary school kicked-off a major active-shooter response exercise for the Richland County Sheriff’s Dept. (RCSD), earlier today, with scores of RCSD deputies and other officers converging on Jackson Creek Elementary School in northeast Columbia, S.C.
Aware that there would be an exercise, but unaware of time or place, RCSD patrol deputies received the alert at 1:00 p.m. as did units from the Columbia Fire Dept., which were dispatched to help cordon-off a perimeter of at least two miles around the school. Within less than three-to-five minutes, deputies were swarming the school as roadblocks and an incident command center were simultaneously set.
“This is not the first training we’ve conducted for this particular scenario at different locations throughout the county and elsewhere,” says Capt. Maria Yturria, director of RCSD’s Office of Public Information. “But this is easily one of the broadest multi-agency exercises for active shooter response we’ve yet to run.”
Special Response Team operators (approximately 20 tactical officers including explosive ordnance “bomb” disposal experts) and emergency medical technicians also deployed quickly to the scene, as did RCSD’s Crisis Management Team (including hostage negotiators) while first one, then a second, drone from RCSD’s aviation unit hummed overhead.
“This exercise demonstrates to the school district and all communities in our jurisdiction that we are constantly enhancing our communications and tactical capabilities all the while increasing our response time,” says Capt. Michael Prichett, commander of RCSD’s Special Response Team.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who early in his career served as a sniper on one of RCSD’s predecessor SWAT teams, agrees.
“This kind of training is not only necessary both for our deputies and other responding officers, but it is deliberately designed to further enhance the public’s confidence in our ability to protect them from any and all threats,” says Sheriff Lott. “We are good at what we do, and every member of this department is committed to ensuring that we only get better.”
In addition to the first-responders, some 100 “civilian” role-players participated in the exercise, including three mock suspects. The friendly numbers laid out for responding deputies were 667 students (including 20 wheelchair-bound students) and 100 faculty members.
RCSD officers quickly gained command of the targeted school and all adjacent grounds and spaces; and suspects were seized in mere minutes. Total time from the initial alert to the neutralizing of all threats – to include the defusing of a mock bomb – was about one hour.
Special operations are not new to RCSD or its Special Response Team which trains constantly, and regularly conducts high-risk operations: gang related, counterdrug missions, and the serving of high-risk warrants.
Employing nearly 900 personnel, including more than 700 deputies and other sworn officers, RCSD is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in South Carolina. It is one of six regularly featured law-enforcement agencies on A&E’s hit television series, LIVE PD. And the department fields “one of the best-trained SWAT teams in the nation,” according to Sheriff & Deputy magazine.
– W. Thomas Smith Jr., a special deputy with the Richland County Sheriff’s Dept., is a formerly deployed U.S. Marine infantry leader and former SWAT team officer in the nuclear industry.