Mississippi College

Active Shooter Drill at Clinton High Brings Valuable Lessons

January 3, 2014

An active shooter drill at Clinton High on January 3 seemed like the real thing.

After authorities reported an 18-year-old Clinton High student was shot to death on campus, Clinton Mayor Phil Fisher and Superintendent Phil Burchfield joined law enforcement leaders to talk about the tragedy as if it really happened.

Beginning shortly after 8 a.m. on a chilly Friday morning, the drill provided valuable lessons to law enforcement agencies, school officials, public relations communicators and others in metro Jackson. Students were away for the Christmas break.

“Safety is a priority of ours in the school district,” Burchfield told Jackson reporters who tossed out tough questions at a staged press conference. “We take that priority very seriously.”

In a prepared statement before fielding questions, Fisher said he was saddened by the deadly events at Clinton High. “We’ve always prided ourselves on having a safe community, but all too often these types of incidents are happening in communities across America.”

The active shooter drill “doesn’t end things for us,” Mayor Fisher told reporters hastily assembled at offices of the Clinton Parks and Recreation Department.

Officials with Clinton police and fire departments, Clinton public schools, Mississippi College, and other entities say they will take a second look at their procedures to deal with a crisis as a result of the exercise.

“This was a good wake-up,” Mississippi College Director of Public Safety Steve McCraney said in his office as the drill lingered into the early afternoon hours. “We put in an emergency response system last year with 77 radios on campus.”

But those emergency plans still need to be tweaked, McCraney noted. “This was a good learning process. The university took advantage of the City of Clinton exercise. We did a dry run to see how we lock down the campus, and inform students, faculty and staff.”

The drill seemed all too real with Clinton High’s campus evacuated and worried parents meeting with students at another location in the city. There were reports circulating that one Clinton school bus mysteriously traveled to the suspect’s house soon after the deadly shooting. At the same time, Clinton police and firefighters stayed alert to tackle their daily assignments around the city.

The emergency exercise won’t be the last one involving Mississippi College.

Mississippi College plans to do its own emergency drill prior to the university’s spring break in March and will work with a number of law enforcement agencies in metro Jackson, McCraney said. Faculty, staff and students will all participate.

MC Vice President for Enrollment Management and Dean of Students Jim Turcotte said the 5,000-student university reaped benefits from Friday’s active shooter drill.

While Mississippi College officials turn to solid written procedures when emergencies arise “we will improve it,” Turcotte said.

The successful drill came about through excellent teamwork of local agencies.

The Clinton police and fire departments partnered with the FBI, the Jackson Police Department, the Clinton mayor’s office, Mississippi College, Clinton Public Schools, and Hinds County Public Schools, among others. Media people from Jackson TV and radio stations worked with newspaper reporters from “The Clarion-Ledger” and “The Clinton Courier” to make the exercise in the 4,900-student Clinton district come to life.

During the incident, public relations officials, reporters, parents, students and law enforcement heavily tapped into social media as the “tragedy” unfolded.

Similar drills have occurred in Mississippi cities like Tupelo and Pearl along with communities nationwide to help leaders prepare for future emergencies.

The Clinton Public School District has worked for the past two years to enhance its crisis management efforts. 

Photo: Clinton Mayor Phil Fisher addresses the news media on January 3 as part of an active shooter drill at Clinton High School. Clinton Public Schools Superintendent Phil Burchfield, law enforcement officials, public relations professionals, students and parents were among those taking part in the exercise Friday.

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