WEST ORANGE, NJ - Facilitators of the Mock Shooter Drill held at Liberty Middle School provided the Town Council with an overview of the day's events, along with additional information at the August 20 meeting.
Sergeant John Morella and Officer Scott Smarsh, who worked with Picatinny Arsenal in organizing the Mock Shooter Drill, shared information about the operation with the town council. They thanked the township and community for what Morella said was a "true team effort." "This could not have happened without the participation of the entire community," said Morella.
Over 100 cameras were placed around the interior of Liberty Middle School to capture all facets of the event. In addiition to collecting the information for training purposes, behavioral scientists will also review the videos to gain insights in human behavior during this type of crisis. The cameras, as well as the equipment provided by Taser International which included Axon Flex headpieces and locators, helped police construct a three dimensional map of the interior of the school and assist them in locating all participants.
"The entire drill lasted about 90 minutes," said Morella, which also included the surprise of a fourth shooter and a hostage situation negotiation. Casualties and injuries were assessed on site by US Air Marshals.
Communications Operator Christopher Babinski, a 24-year veteran dispatcher, became emotional as he described the experience of the dispatchers once phone calls started coming in. Although they had been prepared for the drill, they did not know when they would get the first call, and were not told about the fourth shooter, or that WOPD officers could be casualties. In addition to the phone calls, said Babinski, he utilized the map of Liberty Middle School provided by the West Orange School district to WOPD and assisted in communication of information between responding officers.
Babinski went on to say "this drill was one of the most intense things I've ever done... it shook me to the core." "The students pushed me to the limit as they called" Babinski continued. "They deserve Academy Awards, along with the parents."
This was life-changing for me," Babinski said, noting that though this was an extremely difficult day, he was proud to work and serve with his fellow team members.
Morella and Smarsh told the council they have been invited to the Quantico Marine base in Wshington, DC, to discuss the drill and offer training.
The West Orange Police department works with the school district on a regular basis to hold 'lock-down' exercises for students and staff but had never had a shooter drill on the level of the Liberty Mock Drill. That was also true for participating officers from other towns, the sheriff's office, and other agencies. They were excited to be able to participate and have the experience, saying they had not had the opportunity to participate in a mock shooter drill before. It was an invaluable experience for all, and one that they would welcome in the future.
That is expected to happen over the next year, though the locale may be changed to a mall, movie theater or other venue.
Officer Scott Smarsh, who works in the WOPD Traffic Bureau, was one of the trainers and facilitators for police personnel. He was pleased that they performed as they had been trained to do, and that helped to save lives and contain the situation. "We wanted to put West Orange on the map," he said, and we knew it had to be something huge."