Editor’s Note: For more photos of the exercise, visit our official Flickr album HERE.
FORT KNOX, Ky. — Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023 at approx. 8:45 a.m. — Security radios suddenly come to life. “Gunshots fired at the school!”
Within minutes, two Fort Knox Police cars arrived on the scene at Fort Knox’s old MacDonald Intermediate School as three high school students bolted out of the front door and ran to meet them.
The students, all members of the Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy, simulated escaping from the school during the start of an active shooter incident. After a quick exchange between them and the officers, three police officers rushed into the building, heard more gunshots, and moved quickly toward the sounds. Throughout the hallways and in some of the classrooms laid the wounded.
Among the many observers standing by and taking notes were Department of Defense Education Activity leaders, including superintendents and force protection officers. They had come to Fort Knox’s annual installation emergency response exercise to witness DoDEA’s first ever physical test of its notification and reunification plans after an active shooter incident.
“Our number one goal is always the safety and protection of our students, so there is extreme value in this exercise,” said Sean Griggs, DoDEA Americas Region Force Protection officer. “This is the first within the Americas Region. We are finally far enough along to test it.”
DoDEA adopted the I Love U Guys Foundation programs in 2018, which focus on crisis response and post-crisis reunification throughout the United States. According to the website, the protocols “are used by more than 45,000 schools, districts, departments, agencies, organizations and communities around the world.”
Griggs said getting all the schools married up with the foundation’s programs took them quite a while.
“We have a worldwide mission,” said Griggs. “We had to socialize this with the Department of Defense, get them on board, and say, ‘Hey, this is what DoDEA is going to do in the schools, so you understand what the response is of DODEA.’
“We got some of it codified, and we continue to move forward.”
Installation Plans and Operations specialists Colin Linebarger and Chad Wescott said they started working with Fort Knox Schools back in January to include DoDEA in this year’s exercise. By February, they were talking with other agencies that would be involved in the exercise. They were unsure at that time whether DoDEA would join in.
“We actually had to get DoDEA’s buy-in,” said Lineberger. “They were a little bit hesitant at first because they didn’t want to expose students to any trauma. But we felt like because of current events, the importance of an exercise of this nature superseded that.
“The first time you practice this, you don’t want to do it in real life.”
Lineberger said the installation has trained to react to active shooter incidents several times prior to this. DoDEA’s entrance into the exercise made this one particularly significant.
“This is a bigger than normal deal because an exercise of this scale and scope has never been done in the Army before,” said Lineberger. “The notification and reunification piece is the primary muscle movement.”
Lineberger said DODEA has taken seriously the efforts made at the exercise and is expected in October to send a team from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. so they can further refine their plans through a tabletop exercise that will result in finalized plans being implemented across all of DoDEA.
The exercise included representatives from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. It also included an army of volunteers from the community.
“Since I’ve been on the ground here, the outpouring of support and participation within the community speaks volumes,” said Griggs, who has been in his current position since 2019. “They are very interested in this subject, and they want to know how it will work.”
In fact, well over 100 parents volunteered to take part in the notification and reunification process and at least 50 others for other roles throughout the day. Missing from the initial attack were students from Scott Intermediate and Fort Knox Middle High schools. Planners tasked the role of students out the Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy.
Because of the seriously of the issue, Griggs said DoDEA hired a community protection officer in May of this year to take charge of protocols at Fort Knox Schools.
Fort Knox Schools superintendent Michelle Allen said extra care was taken to address sensitivities while training for this type of scenario.
“We hope this never happens for real, but we still have to be prepared in case somebody is able to infiltrate the base and get in here and attempt to cause harm,” said Allen. “We are learning in real time.”