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Pinellas County Sheriff's Office holds mass shooting exercise, testing response to worst-case scenario

More than 300 people took part in the exercise that tested the response to a mass casualty event with an active shooter at a local school.

SEMINOLE, Fla. — It’s as bad of a scenario as you could imagine. A disgruntled ex-employee fires shots at his old workplace and with a rifle in hand makes his way across the street to his old high school, right before school is set to get out.

On Thursday afternoon, fortunately, those details were only the background of an extensive drill for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and first responders from across the county, to see how they’d respond to the worst-case scenario playing out nearby.

The gunshots that rang out at Seminole High School were sound effects, the blood was fake, the wounds were just makeup, and the casualties were actors – many of them students themselves. But the training it provided was as real “as you can possibly make it,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

Gualtieri has served as the chair of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which was tasked with analyzing the school shooting and others and making recommendations for improvements to the response

.His department's response and others around Pinellas County were tested Thursday.

When the cops show up, we wanted to see what they would do. Are they going to run towards the [gunfire]?” Gualtieri added.

Within just a couple minutes of the drill starting, the shooter, who actually is a detective, methodically walked through the large campus firing fake rounds. In a couple of minutes, there were more than a dozen casualties.

The mock shooter continued down the hallways, checking to see if classroom doors were locked and firing at anything nearby.

The school's resource officers met the shooter in the hallway and took him down.  

“That's one of the things that's hard to get instilled in the mind of the cops because they want to save people, they want to help but that's not their job [in that moment], that's the Fire and EMS job. Their job is to stop the killing,” Gulatieri explained. 

Though the drill didn’t end there. This being the second year Pinellas County held an exercise of this magnitude it came with a twist, a second shooter.

As the first officers neutralize the shooter, a group of girls came running down a different hallway saying their teacher has been shot in a classroom. Deputies who weren’t tipped off about a second assailant made their way down the hallway and eliminated the second threat in less than a minute.

“It's about testing the limits and trying to push the limits so that we could deal with it if again it does happen here so we're best prepared,” Gualtieri said in a press conference afterward.

The whole exercise was as fluid as it could be, first responders tended to and “treated” the injured actors.

While at another location, school district officials helped account for survivors and reunite them with their parents.

Officers from departments around the county, St. Pete, Largo, Clearwater and more worked together, often for the first time, to continue clearing the building.

“Each of these times we do something like this we learn something, and we learn from the incidents that happen across the country and we try to get better,” Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Kevin Hendrick said.

 “We often say it's not if this will happen, but when. We don't want it to happen in our schools but it's important for our parents to know that we are prepared,” he added.

The same goes for law enforcement, they’ll study the tape from this exercise and keep planning for if the worst-case scenario hits close to home.

“God forbid the real thing happens, that we're as prepared as we can possibly be that’s the purpose of it,” Gualtieri added.

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