Dozens of emergency personnel and vehicles descended on Holtville High School on the morning of April 22 and while thankfully there was no actual crisis, the confluence ensured when there is responders will be ready
"An active shooter scenario is something we thought through as good preparation so we discussed simulating a drill with our partner agencies," said Alex Silva, Holtville Fire Department chief.
Silva invited several agencies with 79 participants. Among them were El Centro Police Department, Imperial County Sheriff's Office, Naval Air Facility El Centro fire department, Red Cross and two student explorer units. They joined to conduct a mock rescue drill.
"Our objective was getting in the habit of knowing what to do in situations like this," said John Robles, firefighter and drill coordinator. "This is good training for several scenarios we’re focusing on: active shooter, bomb threats and mass casualties. So far it's gone well with pretty good outcomes."
It was done with community cooperation, explained sheriff’s Sgt. Jorge Cabanillas. The surrounding area was cordoned off for two blocks and neighbors were informed by fliers. Additional notice was posted on the school's electronic marquee on Olive Street and parents of students were emailed and texted while notice was posted on the school's Facebook and Twitter accounts.
School was not in session due to the Easter break.
"The idea was to use the rescue task force concept," said Cabanillas. "We get the RTF as close as possible to where victims are located, treat and rescue them. The other thing, have all the agencies familiarize themselves with RTF and learn how to work together."
He added a previous training session was held at the county courthouse in March. Agencies asked explorers to volunteer as assailants and victims.
"The high school is a great venue because there's so many buildings it adds an element of realism," stressed Cabanillas. "Historically, a lot of active shooter incidents occurred at high schools so this is an accurate scenario training."
Despite the intense activity and early morning start, high school neighbors "were accepting of the realistic operations underway,” said Travis Layton, an Olive Street resident. "Every job needs training. This was absolutely not at all disruptive. If it saves just one life, it's all to the good."
Maria Cortez, an Eighth Street resident, explained she watched the drill with close attention.
"When I saw the helicopter (REACH air ambulance), it was emotional," she recalled. "The sheriffs had a guy in handcuffs, but then he ran away. But it didn't interfere at all with us. They left a flyer Thursday (April 18)."
Carmen Garibaldi, who was doing gardening with her two dogs under foot, added, "It was not disturbing. They let us know on Friday."
The experience was a positive, said Rick Luna, an explorer and sophomore at Central Union High School.
"It (drill) pretty much shows you how much effort you have to put into it," he said. "Today there was a lot of small things. We learned to perform as a team. Overall, it was worthwhile.”
Giselle Anguiano, also a Central High sophomore and an explorer, said the exercise was good preparation for her planned career.
“When I turn 18 I'd like to train as a dispatcher,” she said. “Today was the first time we got to see the police actually working. It was realistic when you had all the cops and SWAT teams yelling at you. It made me admire them more because they' re moving so fast, trying to make sure everybody's safe."