JUNEAU — Preparing for the worst, Dodge County officials acted out a frightening scenario at the Dodge County Courthouse Monday in which a gunman burst through security and began shooting people.
Dodge County Emergency Management Director Amy Nehls said the exercise allowed the county’s first-response community to test its ability to respond to an active shooting incident.
“When we do these exercises, we are not here to find fault,” Nehls said. “We see how the plans play out. If it doesn’t work well, those are the things you fix.”
Staff from Dodge County as well as 24 other agencies participated. Although the courthouse was closed Monday for Martin Luther King Day, Nehls said county employees were at work, and many of the state employees, such as the district attorney’s office and judges, volunteered to participate in the exercise.
“First response and county agencies are regularly staffed and know of no threat,” Nehls said during the briefing. “It is a busy day in the Dodge County Courthouse.”
A majority of the people entering the courthouse through the secured entrance were going to the second floor for a homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle trial in the simulation. But it was an initial appearance on the first floor that caused the incident.
“Courthouse security witnesses a man jump the line for screening and go running toward Branch 5,” Nehls said, describing the exercise. “One officer radios for additional assistance and continues to staff the security station while the other pursues. Courthouse employees are notified to lock down their offices. As the man runs towards Branch 5, shooting people along the way, he is neutralized and additional resources start to arrive.”
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Law enforcement had their live weapons taken away during the exercise as an added safety measure. Nehls said the participants were told not to flee the building during the drill due to the wintry weather outside. Normally, she said, people should respond by hiding, fleeing or fighting.
Starter guns were shot on all the floors of the courthouse to allow those there to realize what a gunshot would sound like in the building.
“We try to play this as realistic as possible,” Nehls said.
Law enforcement rushed past the victims in order to deal with the shooter, but Nehls said there is a plan in place to take care of victims. Rescue Task Forces have two EMTs that are escorted by four officers. The walking wounded were directed to a casualty collection point. The deceased were left for the medical examiner. The EMTs then addressed the more seriously injured at the scene as soon as it was safe to do so.
Law enforcement continued to go through the entire building to make sure there are no additional threats.
“If this was a real incident, you’d hear a lot more screaming,” Nehls said. “You’d hear a lot more of everything.”
It was the third part of a training series that was paid for by a federal Homeland Security grant. Nehls said they also practiced the lockdown procedure at the Henry Dodge Office Building, Dodge County Highway Department and Dodge County Administration Building.