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Jul 24, 2015 4:42 PM

'Active shooter' response tested on the Seacoast


PORTSMOUTH - Just one day after two people were shot dead by a gunman inside a Louisiana movie theater, emergency responders trained to prepare for a similar event if it were ever to occur in New Hampshire.

About 100 local and state police officers knew that a training was scheduled, but they had no idea what to expect as it unfolded.

Around 10:30 a.m., a mock 911 call from inside the high school indicated "popping sounds" ringing through the hallways.

Within minutes, several local Portsmouth patrol officers arrive and immediately head inside. Older practices of waiting for SWAT to arrive are long in the history books.

Victims start to run out screaming. An explosion is heard outside. A fire breaks out in the courtyard. IED's and other suspicious devices are spotted throughout the building.

Just 25 minutes later, the responders now include members from other area police departments and the Seacoast Emergency Response Team, who must deal with all these situations and make decisions in seconds.

As teams search the building for three mock shooters, another call comes in - there's another situation at the junior high school 5 minutes away.

Immediately, extra manpower is called to that scene. A State Police SWAT team is called in to search the building, where three more mock active shooters are taken down.

After all is finished, dozens of mock victims have been shot. One officer has lost his life.

It may be hard to even imagine something of this magnitude in New Hampshire, but as shooting incidents continue to occur randomly across the United States, so does the concern that it could happen locally.

“The one thing that people always say is that we never thought that it would happen here," said Lt. Mike Maloney, who leads the Seacoast Emergency Response Team (SERT). "And the sad reality of it is that it does. And we’d be remised and we’d certainly be behind the curve if we weren’t proactive in preparing for it, because it could happen here.”

The training focused on the coordination and all first responders, including area fire departments and ambulance services, as well as local hospitals.

The state has held about 15 active shooter trainings so far this year, but Friday's was the most complicated to allow teams to practice specialty skills.

Hosting a drill for a "low frequency/high risk incident," the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said the goal was to become more proactive on working together, instead of being critical.

"That’s really an important lesson learned that we had from Columbine and subsequent shootings, like the Aurora movie theater shooting, is really the need for law enforcement to train hand-in-hand and work together," said Training Officer Emily Martuscello. "The faster they can get in there, stop the shooter, they’re able to then start treating patients.”

According to Martuscello, since the Sandy Hook shooting that left 20 young students dead, only 10 states have not had a similar active shooter incident - including New Hampshire.

The training followed a request from the City of Portsmouth, who recently put together new emergency response plans.

Responders from Portsmouth, Hampton, Rye, Greenland and NH State Police participated.

Some officers used rubber bullets to take down mock shooters, and many dressed in actual tactical gear.

The goal - according to Emergency Management Director Perry Plummer - was to make it as realistic as possible.

“We live in a different type of world now, so we have to be prepared," Plummer said. "What you take out of this isn’t just for an active shooter, and those types of things. You take out for any type of incident.”


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