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The Third Branch

Columbia County security preparations include 'active shooter' exercise

By Susan Raimer, Columbia County Clerk of Circuit Court

Sheriff Dennis Richards, Emergency Manager Pat Beghin, and other training participants discussing the outcome of one of the scenarios. Photo credit: The Daily Register

Sheriff Dennis Richards, Emergency Manager Pat Beghin, and other training participants discussing the outcome of one of the scenarios. Photo credit: The Daily Register

Little by little, the Columbia County Administration Building, which is home to the Columbia County Circuit Court, has become a safer place to work. Over the past few years, entrances have been secured, requiring identification tags, panic buttons have been installed, access to certain areas of the building has been limited, screening has been activated part time at the front entrance, and retired officers have been assigned to security detail.

These have all been physical improvements for the safety and security of the employees and citizens who use the facility. But what happens if an active shooter is in the building, or a nearby emergency event alters the operation of the courts or other departments? How will employees respond? Security discussions and trainings have become commonplace, and court staff, law enforcement, and county supervisors have attended the annual state-wide court security training.

The Courthouse Security Committee, with the approval of the county board, has initiated annual hands-on trainings for employees and law enforcement to practice the procedures that have been outlined in the County's Emergency Plan.

The latest of these hands-on training sessions was held Oct. 17. The Administration Building and the nearby County Annex were closed to the public during the session. At that time, law enforcement, emergency management, and county staff met for a briefing session, where it was made known that three different scenarios would be enacted. Each would involve an incident that would require reaction from the participants, and each would involve an active shooter or disturbance.

In one scenario, an individual approached Columbia County Circuit Court Judge W. Andrew Voigt in the main hallway, and without warning, pulled out a gun and shot him. As his judicial assistant in a quivering voice stuttered over the intercom, "I think Judge Voigt was shot in the hallway," a new awareness of the unexpected was felt by county staff. The judicial assistant explained during an interview with the Daily Register, "I was shaking" … the gunshot made it more "real." The session ended with everyone assembling for discussion and reaction to the exercises. Personnel learned that there are always options when a situation arises, that some choices were good and others needed improvement.

The Security Committee met shortly after the training exercise and reviewed the positives and negatives. They are eagerly looking forward to the next trainings in 2015, realizing that practice might not make perfect in a real life situation, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

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