WEDOWEE - Gunshots rang out in the halls of Randolph County High School in Wedowee on Tuesday morning, echoing off the cinderblock walls and reverberating against the blue steel lockers.
A shooter, wearing a thick flannel jacket and carrying a handgun, swiftly moved through the school, trying to push his way into classrooms, stepping over several "victims" in the hall and discharging his weapon.
Very shortly later, a Wedowee Police officer rushed into the facility and carefully began his search. Others followed, including representatives from other local law enforcement agencies.
It was all a drill.
The exercise involved representatives from multiple community agencies, including AirEvac Lifeteam, the Randolph County Board of Education, Randolph County Emergency Management Agency, Randolph County E-911, Randolph County Sheriff's Office, Southern Ambulance Transport, Tanner Medical Center/East Alabama, Wadley Police Department, Wedowee Police Department and Wedowee Volunteer Fire Department.
The drill tested elements of local emergency response plans, including agencies' ability to communicate and coordinate with one another, shelter students and reunite families after a disaster, establish an on-scene command center, secure a school facility following a disaster, triage and transport patients for medical care, respond to an influx of patients at the hospital and more.
Observers in bright vests and clipboards monitored the drill inside the school. The victims - all faculty at Randolph County schools - were "moulaged" with makeup and prosthetics to simulate bullet wounds, lacerations and other injuries that would be consistent with a mass shooting.
Law enforcement moved quickly, pistols and rifles raised, to find the shooter, clear the classrooms and make the facility safe for EMS to begin triaging and transporting patients. Many of the patients were loaded onto stretchers and placed in ambulances - others who could walk were escorted to safety. Then, officers cleared the classrooms of participants who were not "injured" in the exercise.
The "shooter" was Thomas Traylor with the Alabama Game and Fish Division who volunteered for the exercise.
In all, first responders transferred 11 patients to Tanner Medical Center/East Alabama, including one who was found dead on the scene and 10 with varying levels of trauma. The hospital went through the practice of triaging the patients, providing immediate treatment and transferring patients to higher-level trauma centers in Birmingham and Atlanta.
"Drills like this give us an opportunity to find strengths in how we work together, but the real value is when we're able to find issues in our response," said Gary Thomas, vice president of campus and support services for Tanner Health System. "It brings together law enforcement, fire-rescue, EMS, the hospital and others, so when something really does happen, none of us are strangers and we all understand our roles."
More information on Tanner and its services in east Alabama is available online at tanner.org.