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Active shooter drill at Katy private school

July 16, 2018

The heavily armed SWAT deputies swiftly moved past the playground equipment before making their way inside the British International School of Houston in Katy.

The information the deputies from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office had was limited that Thursday morning. There were reports of a gunman inside the campus at 2203 N. Westgreen Blvd. along with possible gunshot victims. Several students and staff were believed to be hiding as well in classrooms as well.

Although this was only a drill, it seemed eerily true-to-life, coming mere months after 10 people were killed and 13 wounded at Santa Fe High School in Galveston County.

“We’re being proactive because we never know. We need to be prepared for it,” said Sgt. Brian Brawner with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

The “gunman” out in the hallway wore a mask and carried some sort of rifle that couldn’t be easily identified by people hiding inside one of the classrooms. He moved back as the SWAT deputies moved in and was “dead” only minutes after the exercise began.

“Our deal is to approach the actor and neutralize the threat immediately. We’re the first line that can stop them,” Brawner said. “The priority is to stop the shooting. The priority is to stop the killing.”

The April 1999 mass shooting inside Columbine High School in Colorado changed how law enforcement agencies contend with active shooting scenes. In the past, the plan was to contain the threat and hold the fort until SWAT officers arrived on scene, Brawner said. In Thursday’s exercise, troopers with the Texas Department of Public Safety were acting as the first responding patrol officers.

“We’re constantly training ourselves t go in there and neutralize the threat ourselves,” Brawner said. “We’re so spread out, it may take our backup units 10 minutes to get there. We’ve got the body armor and we’ve got first aid equipment.”

After the fictional gunman was neutralized, the SWAT deputies continued searching the classrooms inside the school. They moved in, weapons at the ready, then searched and questioned anyone found hiding in the room. One of the participants - an off-duty Harris County deputy - was pretending to be the family member of a student at the school. Before the exercise, the participants were told to tell the SWAT deputies they didn’t know him.

He was immediately detained and pressed against the wall when the SWAT team discovered his firearm. Although it was supposed to be a legal weapon in the scenario, the “family member” was detained until his story could be checked out.

Once the all clear signal was given, the students and school staffers were told to file down the hallway, keeping their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. The SWAT deputies escorted them out of the building to safety.

Coy Martin, director of security at Katy’s Faith West Academy, was pressed into service as one of the students. He hid under a table as the SWAT officers moved down the hallway to engage the shooter.

“This is very good. I’ve done a lot of this training,” Martin said. “You have to prepare for the worst possible scenario.”

Candance Brawner is an official at the British International School. She said teachers put the safety of their students above their own.

“Protecting them is second nature to us. You are the child’s parent when the parents are not there,” said Brawner, who is married to Sgt. Brawner of the HCSO.

Her husband said teachers are actually the true “first responders” to any dangerous situation at a school. He said law enforcement agencies such as the Harris County Sheriff’s Office are reaching out to school districts and offering information about what to do in an active shooter scenario.

“We want all the teachers to be there so they can see what it looks like,” Sgt. Brawner said. “Teachers need to take this very seriously.”

SWAT teams closely study active shooting scenes - regardless of the location - to see if there is anything they can learn from it, Brawner said.

“We put them all in our play book. We’re learning as we’re going, too,” he said. “We don’t have all the answers.”

mike.glenn@chron.com