‘Communication is key’: Henrico first responders remain prepared for active shooter emergencies

Henrico County

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — In August of 2019, Henrico first responders participated in an active shooter drill inside of the Henrico County Courthouse. Officials from Henrico’s Sheriff’s Office, Police Department, Fire Department and Emergency Management met with 8News today to discuss how efforts like these in emergency preparedness keep the county safe.

Over 100 Sheriff’s deputies, police officers and firefighters were placed in a scenario where a gunman took volunteer hostages inside the courthouse building at the event last year.

Jackson Baynard, the Chief of Emergency Management and Workplace Safety for Henrico County, said communication and integration between all agencies in real-life scenarios are key.

And this drill was created to represent exactly that.

“The approach we have in the county is that we want to be prepared,” Baynard said. “We want to identify our strengths, our weaknesses and those gaps. Then we address those and work through it in a collaborative effort as one county as we move forward.”

He said that the lessons to take from the event aren’t always just active shooter related, “but all for public safety or emergency response and recovery efforts throughout the county.”

WATCH: Active shooter training for Henrico County First Responders (2019)

Deputy Fire Chief Thomas LaBelle says the crews put together a Rescue Task Force that is “responsible for working closely to provide security so that we can go in and access victims as quickly as possible.”

They created a unified command system that helped all agencies involved maintain proper communication throughout the entire event.

Henrico Police Captain Don Lambert said that the experience needed to feel as real as possible to help get the point across to all those participating. And he said the officers took the event very seriously.

“In order for it to feel robust, everybody that is in the scenario has to feel that it’s real,” Lambert said. “And in order for that to happen, you have to have enough people playing in the scenario to feel like it’s real.”

Even if they are a mock exercise, events like these can still take a mental toll on both the volunteers and even the officers participating. The event was partnered with Henrico Mental Health and Developmental Services to provide an outlet for those who had experienced stressors from the drill.

“That is a huge piece, not only for the citizens that were affected by the active shooter incident or whatever the critical incident is, but also the public safety personnel that responded,” said Henry Smith of the Henrico Sheriff’s Office.

Last year’s Virginia Beach mass shooting was mentioned as an example they choose to learn from and continue to remember, saying that it was a devastating moment and taught first responders in Virginia more about preparing for incidents before they occur.

A federal grant paid for the emergency exercise that commenced last year. The county hopes to reintroduce more drills post-COVID to keep the agencies involved trained and ready for any emergency.

Henrico representatives meeting with 8News Reporter Tyler Thrasher

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