Listen for gunshots: Active shooter training Monday at AJHS

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Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times
A suspect lies in handcuffs on the second floor of Steele High School during a 2015 mock shooting exercise. Four years later, another drill is planned at Amherst Junior High to prepare teachers and emergency forces for a worst-case scenario.

JASON HAWK
EDITOR

There will be gunshots and screams, flashing lights and ambulances Monday around Amherst Junior High.

Don’t be alarmed.

The shooter stalking the school hallways will be an actor, and the victims bleeding and calling for help won’t be students, but teachers training for a real emergency.

The operation is called “Artemis Shield 2019” and will run from 7-11 a.m. at the Milan Avenue school.

Amherst police and firefighters, Lorain County sheriff’s deputies, the SWAT team, LifeCare Ambulance, LifeFlight, University Hospitals, Mercy Health Lorain Hospital, MetroHealth Simulation Center, the county Emergency Management Agency, the city utilities office, and Amherst Schools will all be part of the training simulation.

The exercise, which is required by state law, will help agencies prepare for in-school violence. It will test the school system’s emergency operations plan, provide law enforcement with practice responding to an armed threat, allow medical personnel to respond to a mass casualty scenario, and help everyone involved to see where improvements can be made.

School won’t be in session during the drill.

Neighbors have been warned to expect what looks and sounds like a real school shooting. They’ll be able to see heavily-armed officers storm the scene, people escape the building, and “injured” role-players carried from AJHS and rushed to local hospitals.

The last live exercise on this scale was carried out in 2015 at Steele High School.

“There was so much I learned,” said Amherst police Lt. Dan Makruski, who ran the drill. “Until you do this kind of exercise, you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Last time, responders discovered they should be using rescue task forces — teams of two police officers and two firefighters — that will enter the “warm zone” and start assessing casualties. The task force isn’t meant to pull anyone to safety, but to blaze the way for an extraction team that can evacuate the most critically-wounded victims.

We were inside with cameras and notepads for that scenario. Even knowing what was about to unfold, the sound of guns firing made our blood run cold.

Even veteran police officers and deputies aren’t immune to that effect, said Makruski. He said they become immersed in the exercise and it feels real.

“We use simulation rounds. It feels like there is a guy shooting back and that ups the intensity,” he said. “These guys come out of it sweating. They’re out of breath. They have that look in their eyes of ‘Hey, I just did something significant.'”

Makruski said he asked for volunteers from among the Amherst Schools staff to play casualties. But he’s being cautious about who he exposes to the pretend shooter because it will be traumatic.

“I want to manage their expectations — they’re going to see gunfire. They’re going to see something they’re not used to seeing,” he said.

First responders might not be emotionally prepared to handle the carnage, even make-believe carnage, he said. They’ll have to push through deadly hallways, seek out the threat, and have the courage and the drive “to engage a shooter, to stop the killing,” said Makruski.

He’s spent the past year setting up scenarios on the shooting range that drive officers toward a threat. It’s not just about hitting a target but about steeling yourself to arrive on a battleground, use cover to move toward a killer, take them down, then continue on and make sure there are no other shooters.

“A lot of the training I’ve put on is driving officers to that threat wherever it is, trying to instill that boldness and courage to do what they have to do,” he said. “And it’s tough because when you think about it, I’m training them to do something I hope and pray they will walk away from.”