By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — Newkirk Public Schools closed for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Monday, Jan. 20, but as drivers traversed South Street that morning, a nightmarish scene unfolded, as dozens of emergency vehicles covered the property, lights flashing in the winter sun, in what may have appeared to be a response to a threat to the school. Fortunately, there was no active shooter in the schools, as area first responders worked together with NPS administration and staff for an active shooter drill, to be prepared, should an incident actually take place.
An estimated 65 first responders took part in the active shooting drill, which included the Kay County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) and Detention Center, police departments in Newkirk, Tonkawa, Blackwell and Tonkawa Tribal Police and Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Fire and EMS responders from Newkirk, Ponca City, Blackwell, Tonkawa and Perry also participated.
The drill was part of continued training for both NPS as well as first responders.
“NPS proposed the full-scale scenario last year, after they attended a CRASE training (Citizens Responding to Active Shooter Events),” said Kay County Undersheriff Sean Grigsba. “The school system wanted to test the reaction of the faculty in the event they had a catastrophic incident.”
The morning began about 9:15 at Newkirk Elementary School, when an “active shooter” entered the building, shooting blanks down the hallways and disrupting classrooms. That shooter was retired Kay County Sheriff Deputy Mike Landis.
“He was our suspect shooter. There were no children present,” Grigsba said.
The drill slowly moved toward the Middle School, and eventually the High School, with about 60 teachers taking part through the course to test whether they were prepared should such an incident take place. They were first asked by the KCSO to call 9-1-1 once the drill began, to also test the dispatcher in case of an emergency.
“If this were to occur, how would we respond?” said NPS Superintendent Brady Barnes. “We were encouraged to call 9-1-1 to see that the system worked, as well. They received about 21 calls from our teachers.”
The “shooter” was eventually apprehended, and the drill ended about 11 a.m., and was viewed positively.
“It was an absolute success. I would give the school and the staff an ‘A’ grade. I would give the first responders a ‘B-‘, and the ‘B-“ is solely based on room for improvement,” Grigsba said. “I believe the ability of first responders to respond was very proficient, with the safety and success of the scenario being top priority.”
There are several reasons for the need for drills such as Monday. One is that it gives all first responders a chance to work together, especially law enforcement officers and fire and EMS technicians, as they typically have different roles. In an active shooting setting, they will be working together in recuing victims.
“All in all, it was great. These guys from all agencies performed excellent, which is great, because in the scenario, police and fire have to work in tandem,” said Newkirk Fire Chief Adam Longcrier. “That is a new mindset for both police and fire. In that situation, they have to work in a rescue task force.”
Without this training, it would be more difficult at emergency settings, if they didn’t know how to work together.
“Fire and EMS has to train with us, and they understand what law enforcement response looks like, and law enforcement has to train with fire and EMS, so we have an understanding of their response,” Grigsba said. “Without that understanding, a tragic situation would be more difficult.”
It is equally beneficial for the school, as they have gone through training workshops to be ready, and with the drill, they were able to put that training into action.
“In today’s age, you hope this would never happen. We always need to work on procedure and protocol, if the unfortunate event were to occur,” Barnes said.
Neither the school nor the first responders knew of the event until the last minute, to help present an air of emergency, as opposed to being prepared in advance, as nobody would know in advance of the shooting. Because of that, future events planned are not yet dated.
“We do have more scenarios planned, but we can’t put dates on them yet because that would break the spontaneity of the response,” Grigsba said. “We wanted to see the reaction.”
The KCSO is proud of the success of the event and the cooperation between the first responders and NPS, and looks forward to more training in the future.
“We appreciate NPS providing us this training situation. We appreciate the fire and EMS response in overwhelming fashion, and the KCSO is very proud of how the law enforcement community came together,” Grigsba said. “The key to success is training, training, training.”