Preparing for a potentially tragic day

Seal Beach PD practices active shooter response at McGaugh School

Officers move on to McGaugh Elementary in response to a simulated active-shooter on the campus. Photos by Ted Apodaca

Victims are simulated, children are running screaming through the campus and police officers are moving toward the sounds of gunfire as they hear it echoing around the campus of McGaugh Elementary School. It’s a worst-case scenario, but in this case it is merely a simulation intended to give police a chance to be better prepared in the event an actual tragedy strikes.

Seal Beach Police conducted another training exercise at McGaugh on Tuesday (the day before the 23rd anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting) to work on how they would respond to a report of an active shooter on the grounds of the local school. Prior to the Columbine tragedy, the general rule of engagement for a gunman on a campus was surround and call out. Columbine was the start a drastic change in that philosophy. The response by police these days is to run to the gunfire and try to neutralize.

Prior to taking the training, officers are checked to make sure they have no actual weapons that might be used by mistake.

“Seconds count in these situations,” Seal Beach Lt. Nick Nicholas said during a break in the training.

Seal Beach Police enlisted the help of student and adult volunteers, who help simulate the chaos that would be happening in the event of a shooter gaining access to the campus. As officers move on to the campus, simulated victims run screaming across the campus.

Officers move towards the sounds of gunfire and explosions and there is more than one shooter, as well as a simulated hostage.

Making the exercise more difficult is the fact that SWAT officers are the ones acting as simulated bad guys. All police officials are armed with weapons that will only fire small projectiles that splatter like tiny paint balls and hit with a bit of a sting. Blue training pistols replace real ones and rifles are fitted with inserts that will only accept the paint bullets, called ‘Simunition.’

The training pistol used to fire the paintball projectiles.

“If the unfortunate day ever comes that there is a critical incident on campus, our police officers will be that much more prepared to respond,” Nicholas said.

Over the course of the day, every Seal Beach Police officer will take a turn going to the campus to complete the training exercise. After every run of the exercise the officers go through a briefing to discuss how it went, what went well and what they might be able to do better. Officers who generally work the same shifts take the exercise together since they are likely to be working together on any given day when an incident could end up occurring. And in today’s climate, officers will move in and engage as they arrive on the scene.

“I think this training is very important for them,” Nicholas said.

On Wednesday, Lt. Nicholas said that the training went well. He also noted that as the only school in Seal Beach, McGaugh Elementary is an important site for the department. He said that working in conjunction with the district and the school is a vital component in the planning of safety for the campus.

“The training event at McGaugh was very successful,” Nicholas said. “Our officers were able to hone their skills and improve their tactics. We are grateful to Dr. Gates and the rest of the McGaugh community for allowing us to conduct this important training.”