Walton County, Fla. –Multiple Walton County agencies were put to the test in a real-time active-shooter exercise Thursday at South Walton High School.

Walton County Sheriff’s Office in partnership with the Walton County School District, Walton County Emergency Management, South Walton Fire District, Walton County Fire Rescue, and several other agencies participated in the training exercise, with the goal of working together to test all areas of response to a violent scenario.

With the prevalence of school shootings nationwide, active shooter exercises remain of critical importance to ensure readiness when protecting students and educators.

“We don’t want to ever feel like it can’t happen or won’t happen,” said Walton County School District Superintendent Russell Hughes. “We want to be ready.

If there is a bad actor on campus, people know what to do and where to go and how to deal with it.”

The exercise began with a loud bang simulating gunfire and, almost immediately, school sirens and a campus-wide announcement of an active shooter sounded over the intercom – a tactic Walton County School District implemented and dubbed “Eye in the Sky”.

ALICE training and response protocol, which stands for Alert, Locate, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate, was immediately initiated by Walton County Sheriff’s Office.

Radio communications and messaging to law enforcement and safety personnel ensued immediately. Cameras positioned throughout the hallways captured the real-time response for observers in the school cafeteria.

After an all-stop was called approximately 30 minutes after activation, triage and re-unification processes began, evidenced by numerous law enforcement vehicles and ambulances stationed outside the school campus and other locations.  Walton Air Rescue was dispatched and landed on the football field to mock transport of critical patients.

At the end of the exercise, all agencies convened to evaluate the ALICE response and lessons learned in all areas, including radio communication strategies, room-clearing techniques, response procedures, identifying potential threats, neutralization methods, emergency medical response, reunification, and public information.

The assessments, combined with feedback from participants and observers, will be used to improve unified response to future situations.

“There’s a lot of planning that goes into these multi-stage, table-top, exercises and the purpose behind it is what — to make mistakes here, to break it here, in a safe scenario,” said Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson.  “To think of what the possibilities are. What are the multiple partners involved, what are our roles, where are the weaknesses, this is where you find these things out.”

While no students were on campus during the exercise, the scenario’s reality hit home to participating school staff – including teachers – and other observers.

“The first time we did this last year and today — that first sound of someone with bad intentions coming to this school, I teared up, because that doesn’t belong in schools, it doesn’t belong where our children are,” said Hughes. “But since we have people who may have that kind of intent, we’re going to be as ready as we can be to make sure that we eliminate those who may have those intentions.”

Walton County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the Walton County Health Department, Bay County Sheriff’s Office, and Bay County Emergency Services for participating in today’s exercise.