Practicing skills you hope never to have to use.
That’s what more than 40 law enforcement officers from Calistoga and St. Helena were doing on Friday, Jan. 4, at the Calistoga Junior-Senior High School.
While pre-recorded screams and gunshots issued forth from the cafeteria, police and fire department officers responded to three separate scenarios in which a “gunman” opened fire in the school and held hostages.
The purpose of the drill is to provide training and evaluate the immediate tactical response to an active shooter situation. It is also staged to determine any future training needs and/or policies and procedures related to an emergency response.
The Napa County Office of Emergency Services (OES) conducted a full scale double Active Shooter Drill in Calistoga and in American Canyon on the same day.
School was out of session during the exercise, and businesses and those living within a half mile of each site were sent community advisory notices ahead of time.
Those in the immediate area would have noticed multiple law enforcement and fire vehicles, first responders, caution tape strung around the sites, and loud noises/voices.
The drills were put on by Wildan, a national consulting company that stages such disaster preparedness drills around the country. The company also provides follow-up evaluations of the drills.
They were paid for by two federal grants, one for $120,000 in 2015, and another $56,000 in 2016, that also allowed the county to purchase protective helmets as well as back and chest shields for medics. The drills were postponed due to the wildfires in 2017, according to Molly Rattigan, Napa County deputy executive officer.
Police and fire officers were taken through three different situations, lasting about 45 minutes each. The officers were briefed outside of the school, then entered chaotic scenes where they didn’t know where the gunman was, or if he would still be actively shooting. In one situation he was already dead when they found him.
About 30 volunteers acted in various roles as students, teachers, and parents caught in the drama. At one point a “crazy lady” kept screaming in Spanish that her family was in the cafeteria, and during a scuffle with a police officer she refused to leave the scene, was subdued, and “handcuffed.”
Others, hiding in a classroom, were quickly escorted out by officers.
Still other “injured” or “dead” bystanders were carried out by firefighters.
Calistoga Police Chief Mitch Celaya said he has been through drills like these before. This is “high risk” training for a “low risk” area, but its good training for the officers.
An actual active shooter situation Upvalley would attract police from the sheriff’s office, CHP, Calistoga, St. Helena and other agencies. Even off-duty officers would respond.
“It’s a perishable skill. If you don’t use it, you lose it. We’ve got to be prepared. When something like that happens we are the ones who have to take care of it, so we have to keep our skills up,” Celaya said.
Last April, Upvalley school and college faculty were also trained on how to respond to an active shooter.
Sgt. Eric Swift of the Napa County Sheriff’s Office’s Problem Oriented Policing Program gave tips to faculty at Pacific Union College and Calistoga Elementary School.
Such training has been taking place at schools within the Napa Valley Unified School District, provided by both the Sheriff’s Office and the Napa Police Department.
“We’re not trying to make police officers out of them, but they should know what to look for, and whether to fight or flee and the difference between cover and concealment,” Celaya said, “To try and protect themselves, not just for school, but at the mall, or an office building. Things the average layperson doesn’t know.”