First responders converge on Poston Butte H.S. in massive training drill

Posted: Updated:
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz. – Dozens of first responders converged on Poston Butte High School Wednesday morning as part of an “active shooter” training exercise.

Put on by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, the idea was to make the experience as lifelike as possible.

Poston Butte is on fall break, but some 150 students and 30 teachers volunteered to be part of the exercise.

PCSO deputies go through “active shooter” training every year, but Wednesday’s drill was much more extensive.

“There’s going to be several hundred people to make this as a real-world situation as possible so we can be best prepared,” PCSO Sheriff Paul Babeu told 3TV’s Tess Rafols before the fake gunfire broke out.

There have been several mass shootings at a variety of places in recent years. The most recent was earlier this month at the Washington Navy Yard.

Arizona has not been immune. Tucson was the site of a mass shooting on Jan. 8, 2011, when Jared Loughner shot 18 people, including former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, at a public event. Six people died.

“God forbid this [a mass shooting] ever happens here, but the only way to prepare for it is to do training like this,” Babeu said.

More than a dozen agencies were involved in the training, which was designed to simulate how events might unfold were there to be a mass shooting during a typical school day.

  • Pinal County Sheriff’s Office
  • Southwest Ambulance
  • Native Air
  • Rural/Metro Fire Department
  • Banner Ironwood Medical Center
  • Florence Hospital at Anthem
  • Pinal County Office of Emergency Management
  • Town of Florence Police and Fire Department
  • Town of Queen Creek Fire Department
  • Florence Unified School District (Poston Butte and Florence high schools)
  • J.O. Combs Unified School District

“The exercise will help all participants develop emergency response plans, policies and procedures as they pertain to an active shooter incident,” PCSO spokesman Tim Gaffney said in a news release.

Forty people were “shot” by two gunmen during the exercise. Ten of them were "killed."

“A large-scale situation with this many victims and patients would be extremely difficult for a system to handle,” Katy Reeve of Southwest Ambulance told Rafols as several gunshots erupted in the background. “We want to make sure that we’re ready in case something happens in our community.”

Months of planning went to Wednesday’s drill.

“We have 2,200 schools in Arizona. We have 104 school resource officers,” Babeu said. “That’s why we’re doing this training -- not to alarm or scare people.”

A training video based on the daylong drill will be sent to other Arizona schools. The hope is that other Arizona law-enforcement agencies will set up similar training events.