Kent Levy Court conducts ‘violent intruder’ drill

DOVER — On any other day, a gunshot ringing out on the first floor of the Kent County Administrative Complex would probably be the start of a tragic incident. Luckily, on Wednesday morning, it was just a drill.

Ordinarily the Kent County director of facilities management, Dick MacDonald filled the role of a “violent intruder” on Wednesday, storming the building around 8:35 a.m. After getting into a fight with the building’s security guard, a single handgun shot (a blank fired by a police officer) was heard by nearby staff. Recalling the training they’ve received by Kent County’s Public Safety department over the last year, they immediately used an intercom system to alert the police and other staff members in the building. Tipped off, all approximately 100 employees in the building followed the Avoid, Deny, Defend checklist — a protocol now used nationally to increase civilian survivability during “active threat situations.”

Though Mr. MacDonald was able to mock injure nine people and briefly take two hostages, Dover Police officers arrived on scene eight minutes after the start of the attack, followed by the agency’s full SORT (Special Operations Response Team) unit at the sixteen minute mark, put a quick end to the attack.

The occasion was Kent County Levy Court first-ever “violent intruder training” at their headquarters on South Bay Road in Dover — the exercise closed down the building temporarily in the morning and drew a large Dover Police Department and Kent County Public Safety personnel presence. Under the guidance of Public Safety director Chief Colin Faulkner’s, the training was an “overwhelming success.”

“As with any organization, especially government organizations, we want to maintain the safety of our employees, should a bad actor show up in a county building,” he said. “We’ve spent a year educating our employees in law enforcement approved programs to prepare them for these types of situations. With Avoid, Deny, Defend, staff is taught to run away first if they can escape. If they can’t, they’re taught to hide or barricade themselves. If they can’t do that, they fight. It’s sad, but many of these strategies have been developed based on past experience. Historically, in some of these incidents, people would freeze and try to wait it out — we’re trying to change that mindset.”

Mr. Faulkner said the exercise was an opportunity mainly for staff to gain the experience of an attack on the building, specifically how a gunshot may sound in the building, the progression of the attack and the siege of law enforcement.

“You can read things in a book and study them, but you really have to see them to gain a full appreciation — these operations are actually much more complex than they seem,” he said.

However, the training isn’t just for the benefit of county staff. It’s also an opportunity for the Dover Police Department and Kent County Public Safety to practice its own inter-agency coordination. Another hard-won lesson from past active shooter events around the country has been that EMTs (emergency medical technicians) must be prepared to enter “ongoing, dangerous” scenes to rescue heavily bleeding victims, explains Mr. Faulkner.

“We had nine DelTech students moulaged (mock injured for training purposes) and pre-staged throughout the first floor for the paramedics to come in an extricate,” he said. “It’s fairly new to EMS, but extricating from the ‘warm zone’ is becoming the new norm because we now know how many people die in these incidents from bleeding. Usually, paramedics wouldn’t go into the scene until it was ‘cold’ or deemed safe, but now, they follow the police officers after their first sweep. In these instances, there may still be an active intruder. Our employees do have kevlar vests and helmets so they’re protected, but it’s a sad new reality for us.”

Considered by Mr. Faulkner to be a “low volume, high risk” type of incident, he noted that initially some staff members were a bit unsettled by the idea of the drill. But afterward, he noted that there was “positive feedback.”

“It was very informative for them to discuss some of the challenges they had and talk about how they can be overcome,” he said. “Our goal was to raise awareness and preparedness, and we certainly accomplished that.”

Already identifying a few areas that “need improvement,” Mr. Faulkner says the county will likely be planning follow-up and refresher trainings in the future to ensure that staff remains vigilant.

For his part, would-be attacker Mr. MacDonald says the drill is an unfortunate necessity.

“Anyone who doesn’t think this is important isn’t paying enough attention to the news and what’s going on in the world today,” he said. “We’ve had people get hostile in Levy Court meetings before and get into altercations with the guard and have to be escorted from the building. Sadly, this sort of thing can happen anywhere at any time. This isn’t a fun drill, but it’s important for the employees to be prepared for their own safety.”

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