Large Scale Active Shooter Drill Conducted at Timberlake High School

Superintendent Lisa Arnold and Sheriff Robert Norris address the press after active shooter drill at Timberlake High School on June 12, 2024.
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SPIRIT LAKE, Idaho – The community’s largest full-scale emergency response exercise was conducted this morning at Timberlake High School as part of the training necessary to prepare for critical life-threatening scenarios. Today’s simulation of an active shooter scenario was the culmination of nine months of planning and involved personnel from 16 entities along with 93 individuals who helped create the real-life drill by playing various roles as suspects and victims.

The Kootenai County Office of Emergency Management coordinated the event, with its Preparedness Coordinator Sarah Long acting as the Exercise Director. “Realistic training scenarios are one of the best ways to prepare our responders for real-world emergencies,” shared Long in a prepared statement. “These exercises give an opportunity to practice skills under stress and enhance teamwork and communication.”

“This was a vision from all of our partners … it has been a multi-jurisdictional effort over the span of nine months,” shared Long. “We have had quite a few training [exercises] leading up to this moment; reunification training in March and active shooter incident management training in May.” Long said the three main objectives to today’s training were active shooter threat management (threat stabilization), rescue task force coordination and triage for patient management, and conducting reunification to ensure everyone is reunited with their families.

Long clarified that although this particular planning scenario was meant for a school setting, the same practices could be applied to other locations as the same policy and response efforts are used no matter what emergency presents itself.

“What we conducted here today was one of the most comprehensive active shooter situations that this county has ever seen,” stated Kootenai County Sheriff Robert Norris. “We had a full-scale exercise of an active shooter that included the very beginning of the event to parents simulating picking up their kids at a different location.”

Local, state, and federal law enforcement, EMS, and four fire districts participated in the exercise, as did the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security, Lakeland Joint School District, and Real Life Ministries, a local church. 

“We trained today how we train our personnel to respond to these active shooter situations,” stated Norris. “That is to arrive on scene, develop a contact team, go to the source of gunfire, engage the suspect, and neutralize the suspect.”

The whole strategy for approaching and stopping an active shooter has evolved. They used to wait for backup, but now they train to go immediately to the source of the gunfire and end the threat as soon as possible. 

“The quicker that we engage the suspect, the less people who die, the less people who get injured,” explained Norris. “That is why as soon as we arrive on scene we develop a contact team, [it] could be one deputy … [it] could be two deputies … [it] could be one deputy and a janitor … and engage the suspect.” 

Today’s scenario had the shooter commit suicide. Norris said this is fairly common. “Analysis of these active shooter situations have told us … generally, the quicker you engage the suspect, less people die, and there’s a likelihood they will kill themselves.”

Norris believes no community is immune to these types of threats, so he focuses on proper training to be prepared. “We have certain threats in this country today that we didn’t have 3 years ago, that we didn’t have 13 years ago,” said Norris. “We have to be able to evolve to address those threats … we have people coming across our southern border that don’t like us much and we have to be prepared for anything.”

Norris wants everyone “to be vigilant” and for parents to be assured that no matter what the emergency event might be, our local first responders are trained and prepared to save lives.

Superintendent Lisa Arnold of the Lakeland Joint School District (LJSD) said the district conducts monthly drills to prepare for emergency preparedness. Arnold stressed the importance of real-life training, “Muscle memory needs to happen in order for us to respond in a quick way. When we have to stop and think through the processes, time is lost. We know that seconds saves lives.” She believes continuous training is essential and said that this isn’t the first time that the district has conducted an active shooter drill.

While LJSD does not have a policy to arm adults on campus, they do contract for seven armed School Resource Officers (SRO) who cover eleven locations throughout the district. 

“The district has great relationships with all of our law enforcement jurisdictions,” stated Arnold. She believes the full-scale exercise benefitted the district as it provided them the ability to see what part of their plan is working and where it can improve. “We had an opportunity today to actually work through all of our processes, our procedures, our system,” she said. “We want to be sure our processes are adequate.”

During this simulated active shooter exercise, the school’s alarm system was activated which sounded a siren and the verbal message “locks, lights, out of sight” which was continuously repeated, along with flashing blue lights. Arnold said these same protocols are used during the school’s regular emergency drills where both staff and students are trained to know what to do.

Long has a message for the 93 volunteers, “I want to give a special ‘thank you’ to them because we couldn’t have done this without them. They made this really realistic and made it a great exercise.”

Long encourages residents to be aware of what is going on and to sign up for Alert Kootenai, a free emergency alert system in Kootenai County. Alerts are only sent to those who enter their information into the system.