Carson High active shooter drill tests emergency response

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong addresses school district administrators on procedures during an active shooter drill at Carson High on June 4, 2024.

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong addresses school district administrators on procedures during an active shooter drill at Carson High on June 4, 2024.
Photo by Jessica Garcia.

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In an active shooter drill Tuesday, Carson City Sheriff’s officers came running down the hallway of Carson High School, following the gunpowder that recently had been fired and quickly searched for the “shooter” in a classroom. They discovered their suspect quickly, checking for staff members posing as students inside who had been contained. Some were marked as decedents, but the goal was to follow the proper lockdown procedures.

For Principal Dan Carstens, the entire exercise was “surreal” to hold on his campus among colleagues and first responders.

“You hear the smoke and you smell the smells,” he told the Appeal. “It’s in your school. Knowing that and working with our law enforcement and fire departments and first responders, you understanding the training that they have. …It was pretty crazy. I’m super proud of our district to go through this and I’m real proud it happened at our school.”

Carson High School hosted an active shooter drill Tuesday, a simulated encounter encompassing two scenarios and a reunification drill planned out to prepare educators, local law enforcement and first responders in emergency situations to be prepared when a real incident occurs.

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong told media representatives the exercise, which follows but was not related to a real lockdown incident at Carson High more than a month ago. This week’s drill was the meticulous year-long result of coordinated planning from leaders including district risk manager Ann Cyr, Carson City’s deputy emergency manager Jon Bakkedahl, Furlong, Carson City Fire Chief Sean Slamon and Douglas County and state agency partners. Everyone who took part in the drill observed current practices and policies and made suggestions for improvements.

“Today affords us an opportunity to work in a super environment with a plan that’s been in the works for about a year to exercise all of those challenges and create some opportunity, giving us a better response,” Furlong said.

Carson High’s May 3 lockdown, resulting from a student report about a possible sighting of a weapon, offered fresh insight into some of the security and communication challenges law enforcement officers and first responders experience in a real-time incident. Furlong said officers and responders’ key takeaways were their hindrances identifying the location of a scene on campus or in a larger complex. Cell phone signals might be hampered in a building as large or old as Carson High, Furlong said.

Security is essential, and at Carson High, the May 3 lockdown showed access was very limited to the CCSO — and not just at the high school.

“The sheriff’s office would like to expand our access capabilities,” Furlong said. “Many of those doors don’t have key card access points. … This is intended for all schools.”

Tuesday’s first run-through was a low-level, domestic situation, Furlong told media, and the second, active shooter scenario was more hostile to train officers and first responders how to track and isolate a problem once on site and identify a shooter.

Furlong said he observed the officers were quick to find the suspect and take them into custody in about 20 minutes and the school remained in lockdown. Response was successful, he noted.

The drill itself is a “rare breed” to enact what typically would be required.

“We’ve had children with weapons on campus,” he said. “We’ve had threats to these schools. We’ve had intruders. Those types have been occurring all along. Fortunately, none of those threats rose to the level of serious harm to our schools.”

Broader district trainings are required throughout the year to all district staff and students. General safety scenarios prepare students in earthquake or fire drills, spokesman Dan Davis said in a media briefing Tuesday. But the active shooter drill was coordinated by district’s administrators, principals and office staff in partnership with local and state agencies. The outcome was a specialized effort with more executive or operational strategies involved taking place beyond classroom instruction, Davis said.

Superintendent Andrew Feuling participated and escorted the “VIP” officials who were observing. He thanked the local agencies and responders for their part and willingness to come to the schools’ aid.

“I think it was a really powerful experience for all those involved,” he said. “The bottom line is student safety is our number one priority, and as a school district, we have to be prepared for any kind of scenario that comes up, so exercises like this allow us to practice through that.”

Cyr said she was pleased with the outcome. Since it was the district’s first large-scale portrayal of an actual active shooter on site, it helped to tie together multiple risk concepts she and Bakkedahl review as emergency managers for the school district and city in any type of emergency response.

“We’re looking at multi-agency coordination, incident command, emergency communications, family reunification,” she said. “These are all things we would be called to do in any number of scenarios. … I would say in our emergency operations plan reviews, we have a district wide committee that works on those plan reviews and they take the information out of these exercises and tweak the actual emergency operations plan, and that is the policy.”

Cyr said the family reunification drill, which also was held in January this year at Fuji Park, also was a success. Administrators appeared more confident in their operations in the third drill of the day. They provided keener feedback on how to make improvements on the process about congested pickup trying to connect with their assigned “students” in their roles, weather considerations in the hot sun outside or other concerns.

Davis reinforced the importance of conveying accurate information to families in an emergency through all of its channels, including its ParentSquare platform and the media, as quickly as possible.

“This was a great opportunity for us to work as a collaborative effort with the sheriff’s office and the first responders,” Davis said.

“I think the biggest thing is we want to be able to provide as much information to as many people as quickly as we can. I think that’s the big takeaway to our families. If we do that, then our goals are met.”

Mayor Lori Bagwell was among the VIP officials and said Tuesday’s exercise stresses the value of having well-trained responders ready with the strategic resources and courage to help anyone in distress.

“The most important thing for me was when the gunfire went off that they showed no fear, that they went, ‘Go! Go! Go!’ ” she said. “But to recognize that they’re people, too, and that they have families? Ugh, it gives you chills that that could happen. I’m just very proud of them.”

Bagwell said she had learned it’s all about helping the community be ready to respond in a moment’s notice to help minimize the risk to students and staff.

“To think, are you prepared to do a lifesaving issue for a child that’s been injured or for a teacher? Are you ready? I think that’s what brought it home for me.”

In a debriefing session to deconstruct the drills, Carson City Sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Gomes reminded administrators about everyone’s role on site at the schools. Despite public perception, he said, the firefighters and police officers aren’t truly the first responders in a live emergency situation.

“Nobody is going to get to the scene faster than the people already there,” he said. “We’re not the true first responders. You are.”


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