Classrooms were quiet inside an empty Frederick school building Tuesday morning, until a hail of gunfire broke the silence.
FBI agents made their way through the narrow hallways, firing at gunmen who had taken hostages.
The event was a training scenario, not an actual school shooting — though the plastic, paint-filled rounds fired did sting at times.
“Help! Help! I need help!” a woman screamed.
“I’m going to kill you!” a man responded.
The FBI Baltimore field office conducted the active-shooter training at the vacant Lincoln Elementary School building on Madison Street in Frederick.
The building constructed in about 1972 has been vacant for two years as the Frederick County Board of Education decides what to do with the site, said Michael Doerrer, school system spokesman.
Tuesday’s group of 30 agents was the last of Baltimore’s 225 to undergo on-site training in the event of a school shooting.
Agents across the nation are getting new active shooter and mass casualty training to fulfill an executive order signed in January 2013 after the Newtown, Conn., massacre that killed 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said Special Agent Micheal Copeland, an FBI firearms and tactical instructor.
Copeland is charged with training leaders in the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Frederick Police Department and other agencies in the region, he said.
During a local training exercise, a Frederick police SWAT team member made him aware that Lincoln Elementary School was vacant and might be a possible training site, Copeland said.
The school system frequently works with law enforcement agencies to conduct training for emergencies, Doerrer said.
“Exercises like this are all about strengthening the relationship with our law enforcement partners,” he said.
Charles Bowers, the school system’s building manager, said allowing law enforcement to train in vacant schools helps familiarize them with building layouts and gives officers situational awareness.
“If more agencies are familiar with buildings, the less likely we’ll have problems,” he said.
The vacant building provides a space for agents to get hands-on training in such scenarios, Copeland said.
“Frederick County Public Schools has been outstanding with us,” he said. “A lot of these things are talked about in classrooms, but when you get into an elevated level that amps up your stress, you feel and experience things differently.”
The school setting helps the FBI agents to understand the psychological stress of such situations, Copeland said.
The training is based on the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, or ALERT, a program established in Texas in 1999 after the Columbine High School shootings, Copeland said.
Participating agents wore street clothes; their only protective garment was a face mask for training purposes. If an agent is responding to a school shooting, there’s no time to suit up.
“Literally, time equals lives,” Copeland said. “If that means you have to leave your vest behind because it’s going to take up time, that’s what you need to do.”
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