About 150 law enforcement officers, emergency responders and volunteers took part in an active shooter response training exercise Saturday at Deering High School in Portland. Credit: Caitlin Troutman | Maine Public

Neighbors may have heard gunfire near Deering High School in Portland Saturday morning, but it was all part of a drill.

About 150 law enforcement officers, emergency responders and volunteers took part in the active shooter response training. Planning for the event took several months, according to Christopher Sanborn, the deputy police chief for the Gorham Police Department and the Region 2 training coordinator for Cumberland County. Portland police distributed fliers to neighbors of the school in advance of the training session that started on Friday afternoon after classes ended.

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Sanborn says the goal of exercises like these is to prepare first responders for a so-called “active assailant” incident.

“Throughout the exercise we have evaluators stationed inside the building, outside the building, observing the response to this type of incident,” Sanborn said. “We had evaluators in the command vehicle to determine whether command was accomplishing all the goals that needed to be accomplished for the exercise. And we’ll also, afterwards, go over those evaluations to discuss what went well and what did not go so well so that we can better prepare to respond to these types of incidents in the future.”

Credit: Caitlin Troutman | Maine Public

The volunteers were mostly community members and students from area schools. In preparation for the simulation, many volunteers were given “wounds” with fake blood, petroleum jelly, tape and cotton balls. When the simulation began they went to assigned marks within the school and acted injured or deceased.

Lucas Wright is a junior at Scarborough High School and a member of the youth organization Scarborough Police Explorers. He volunteered as one of the “injured” for the simulation.

“You have to train like you fight,” Wright said. “If there were to be, God forbid, an event like this and we didn’t know what we were doing, a lot of people would perish or be injured. The more you train, the better you’re going to be if the real event were to happen.”

[Maine school district’s back-to-school preparation includes active shooter training]

When the simulation began Saturday, medical personnel and law enforcement quickly and cautiously covered the school grounds. Officers’ weapons were marked with orange tape to indicate that they were participating in the drill as they secured the building and assisted the “injured” or left the “deceased.”

First responders worked in ambulances parked in front of the school. They went so far as to strap volunteers to stretchers and simulate giving them an IV.

It is difficult to find data that show how effective these simulations are in preparing first responders, but Sanborn believes that they are useful.

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“I think that they’re very effective,” he says. “We’ve conducted several of these exercises since I’ve taken over as the training director within the last four years and they’ve been very effective and we’ve received very good response from the participants.”

Data from the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety cites two fatal gun incidents on school property in Maine since 2013. They took place in the school parking lots in Waterville and Gray, and both of the shootings were self-inflicted and did not involve students. There have been more recent incidents of threats of violence that have caused Maine schools to go into lockdown.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

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Credit: Caitlin Troutman | Maine Public