Teenagers scream as they run out of the building toward the deputies, who are advancing with guns drawn.
It’s dark but loud inside, as students grab at their uniforms from the ground, crying and begging for help.
The four deputies take note, but can’t stop to help the injured now.
Their first priority is finding the shooter.
This was the scene during a recent active shooter training for Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies at Artemis Defense Institute in Lake Forest. The entire building was used for the training, with the front office serving as a makeshift school office, and rooms designed to resemble classrooms and a school library.
“This is more realistic,” said School Resource Officer Davida Tidwell, who is assigned to schools in Dana Point. “You feel your heart rate go up, your adrenaline shoots through the roof, we’re sweating, we’re running, with kids grabbing on us and screaming. It definitely helps us train how we would really fight.”
A computerized simulation system projected onto large screens in multiple rooms was designed for just this situation. The scenario adapts to the deputies’ actions, changing the outcome each time. The multi-sensory experience is designed to create as much stress as possible in order to more realistically simulate an active shooter event, said Steven Lieberman, co-owner of the Artemis Defense Institute.
“The scenario is just high stress and it’s trying to mitigate what happens to the human body when you’re in fight-or-flight type of state,” said Artemis Defense Institute Lead Instructor John Vredenburgh, a former Buena Park SWAT member.
This training is part of the Safe Schools Initiative through the Orange County Department of Education, and ties into the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s APT program, which stands for assess, prepare, and train.
“The Safe Schools Initiative, coupled with all the other programs that we have and the protocols that we’ve developed over time for responses, has made Orange County one of the safest counties in the nation,” Undersheriff Don Barnes said.
The department is responsible for responding to more than 100 schools, and has 16 school resource officers, as well as the School Mobile Assessment Resource Team (SMART), and the Pepperdine Resource Youth Diversion and Education (PRYDE) program to benefit students.
“This is one way to come up with one holistic platform in which our assessments are the same, the preparation model is the same, and our training is the same,” Barnes said.
OCSD Explorers volunteered as actors during the training, as well as students from Santa Margarita Catholic High School and other local high schools.
“Thankfully, we’ve never had to be in a real situation, but it’s really interesting being able to be put into a situation and learn how the sheriff’s department and how the police officers are supposed to respond in these situations,” said John Grayson, 18, ASB president at Santa Margarita Catholic High School. He and the other students took turns acting injured, dead, and panicking. Grayson was surprised that the deputies didn’t stop to help the “injured” but now understands their first priority is to remove the threat to prevent more casualties.
“I have such a newfound awareness for the rigor and the training that goes into being a sheriff and/or an officer,” Grayson said. “It’s such a backbreaking process and I just have so much more respect for our armed forces that are first responders.”
The scenario gave students insight into their role as well, and how to act in a real active shooter situation in order to help law enforcement do their jobs, said OCSD Explorer Lieutenant Faith Woodward, 18, a freshman at Saddleback College.
“I’m more aware of my surroundings and I pay attention in the hallways if there’s anybody who’s a little suspicious,” Woodward said.
As the students were screaming and running from the building during the training, the deputies were gathering intel on the number of shooters, which direction they went, and what they were wearing.
“When you have scenario training like this, it’s very realistic. The stress level goes up, your adrenaline goes up, and it really does a good job of safely recreating situations that could potentially happen in the field,” Sgt. Joses Walehwa said. “Training like this is really effective.”