Green Hornet drill helps police, firefighters practice new tactics at Ferndale school

First responders practice at school shooting drill

Local first responders practice working together during a school shooting drill at Horizon Middle School in Ferndale, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016.
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Local first responders practice working together during a school shooting drill at Horizon Middle School in Ferndale, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016.

A distraught parent. A school on lockdown. Police and hospitals on high alert.

This city was not alone Thursday, Oct. 13, when the call came to emergency dispatchers throughout Whatcom County to begin an active shooter drill with the code name Operation Green Hornet.

Thirty-four agencies participated in the exercise.

The drill began at 10 a.m. when a woman playing a distraught parent walked into the front office at Horizon with blood on her clothes, telling employees she had just shot her ex-husband and was there to pick up her child.

The scenario ended up in a hostage situation: injured students and teachers scattered throughout the school. The school was placed on lockdown; its 450 students eventually were taken to Ferndale High School for reunification with their own parents.

The middle school was one of four locations that participated in the drill. Ferndale Communication Center, St. Joseph hospital and Ferndale High School were the other three.

“Our role today was to identify what we have, go in, and stop the shooting if it’s continuing,” Ferndale police Lt. Bill Hatchett said in a news conference immediately following the drill Thursday.

“In today’s role there was an active shooter that quickly became a hostage barricaded scenario, so we then cleared an area of the school and made what was considered a ‘warm zone.’ We can then work with the fire department to come in and start removing those that have been injured by the active shooter while still holding that suspect isolated.”

A new tactic recently adopted throughout Whatcom County is called Violent Incident Response Procedures (VIRP).

In previous emergencies involving an active shooter or something similar, firefighters and police officers would show up but only the police would enter a facility. Officers then would move throughout the facility, clearing areas as they searched for the suspect, leaving injured people to wait until either the building or a specific area was cleared, said Dean Crosswhite, division chief of training for Whatcom County Fire District 7.

Crosswhite said sometimes firefighters “would wait outside for half an hour, maybe an hour, sometimes even an hour and a half before we were able to go inside.”

With VIRP, even if the building isn’t completely cleared but there is a safe zone or a “warm zone,” teams of firefighters and police officers, called a force protection team, are sent in to quickly treat injured people, pull out the seriously wounded and take them by helicopter to the hospital.

Scott Brittain, Ferndale School District’s assistant superintendent, said drills like the one Thursday are important.

“It was great from the standpoint that it was a drill that felt like real life for a lot of the folks that were involved. If we don’t practice those things, we don’t have the ability to look at parents and say ‘Your kids are going to be OK when they come to school,’” Brittain said. “We really do believe that the kids that are coming to our school everyday are safe.”

Vanessa Thomas: 360-715-2289,