NORTH AUGUSTA — SWAT team members with the North Augusta Department of Public Safety roamed the halls of six schools Thursday, learning the entrances and exits, nooks and crannies, to better prepare themselves should they have to respond to an emergency situation.
At North Augusta High School, for instance, team members talked with custodial staff to learn what doors remain locked at all times, which are unlocked, how to access the roof, and familiarized themselves with the floor plan so that they can take that knowledge and plan for the unexpected.
“We are pinpointing strengths in security and weakness in security to prepare for the catastrophic event we hope never happens,” said Lt. Tim Thornton.
The 21-member SWAT team was at North Augusta Elementary, Mossy Creek Elementary, Hammond Hill Elementary, Paul Knox Middle, North Augusta Middle and North Augusta High at different times throughout the day.
All Aiken County schools are on winter break until Monday, so no students were inside the schools while the SWAT training was being conducted.
No school is the same. Each school has a different layout, which means the SWAT team has to craft a response plan specific to each school. The plan, for example, can assist them in knowing the best and quickest ways to identify and isolate a threat to evacuating students and faculty.
It can be a challenge, according to Thornton, especially since the majority of the six schools were built before anyone had to worry about school security.
“We’re encouraged about having the ability to get in here and pre-plan,” he said. “Of course, we cannot plan for everything, prevent everything.”
The SWAT team trains together once a month in various areas, like firearms, physicality and scenarios.
Public Safety Chief John Thomas said practicing and planning can shave seconds off emergency response, and “seconds mean a lot to us.”
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting where 20 students and six faculty members were fatally shot is on everyone’s minds, Thomas said, and North Augusta Public Safety wants to stay out in front and remain vigilant.
Thursday was the first day back for Sandy Hook students and faculty.
“I can only imagine what the parents and students are going through. Sadly, it can happen anywhere, anytime,” Thomas said.