We're less than two weeks out from the start of the new school year in Duval County.
The school district wants parents to feel confident their children will be safe while they’re in class.
Action News Jax reporter Courtney Cole spent the day at First Coast High School, where police and fire rescue trained for an active school shooter situation.
Jacksonville Fire Rescue, The City of Jacksonville and Duval County Public Schools want to make sure everyone knows how to work together under pressure—when it counts.
The shots heard during the active shooter exercise at First Coast High School on Friday -- were just blanks.
“It startles you. It really puts you in the moment and makes you feel like it’s real,” said Allison Bullard, a 20-year-old who volunteered to be one of the active shooter victims.
The drill is meant to prepare officers and security personnel for the real thing.
It’s a reality every Florida school is forced to face just six months after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
"Unfortunately, this is our new normal and our administrators need to be fully prepared by participating in exercises such as this,” said Dr. Diana Greene, the Superintendent for Duval County Public Schools.
According to a report from CNN, there have been at least 23 school shootings in the United States in 2018, where someone was hurt or killed.
The latest was on May 25 in Indiana, when two people were hurt after a gunman began shooting at a middle school.
“We thought it was time. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve done this in a school setting,” said Sheriff Mike Williams of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.”
JSO, JFRD, The Mayor’s Office and Duval County School Police used this exercise to figure out where their shortcomings might be now...so they can be fixed sooner rather than later.
While this was an exercise, police officers and firefighters had no idea what threats they might face once the drill began.
"An experience like this gives them an opportunity to see gaps in what we do as the school district,” said Dr. Greene.
A total of 107 first responders participated in the exercise; their scenario had them dealing with one gunman.
Laureen Ricks, the spokeswoman for Duval County Public Schools, told Action News Jax there has never been an active shooter on a Duval County Public School Campus.
While all of the agencies hope it stays that way, they all agree: nothing beats preparation.
"It’s all about collaboration, integration from a standpoint of ensuring our public is safe, our kids are safe when we go to school,” said Charles Moreland, the Director of Community Affairs for the office of Mayor Lenny Curry.
One volunteer described the drill on Friday as nerve-wracking.
"We pushed the chairs to the side and we put up the table and put it in front of us and then we crouched down and we were just waiting... And the police officers came in and said, ‘is anybody hurt?’ ” Nagat Khalifa told Action News Jax. She was another young lady who volunteered to participate in the exercise.
Another volunteer, who played a gunshot shot victim, told me seeing the response up close was interesting—but also reassuring.
"It made me feel confident that the police officers are going to be able to handle the scenario if it happens in real life,” said Kashaun Boedsoe.
After the exercise, we learned one of the challenges first responders faced was communication. Some of their radios didn't work as well inside the First Coast High School building. Fortunately, that’s something they can work to change now, that will make all the difference in the future.
© 2020 Cox Media Group