More than 50 Berkeley County students spent Wednesday morning participating in a very unusual summer camp activity: a large-scale active shooter drill.
Goose Creek Police Chief L. J. Roscoe called the exercise at Stratford High School one of the largest collaborative active shooter training drills ever held in the Charleston area, possibly in the state.
More than 200 law enforcement officials from 15 agencies took part.
"If we did have an active shooter situation in a school, we would contact all of these other agencies to help us," Roscoe said. "To avoid chaos in the event that something like this happens, we need to coordinate and be prepared in advance."
Federal law enforcement officials were also at the morning's events, said Brian Troutman, a spokesperson for Berkeley County School District.
Students from a BCSD gifted and talented summer camp participated in the drill after receiving permission from their parents. They acted as "civilian role-players" and were stationed in different locations throughout the school buildings.
Troutman said the drill was designed to be as realistic as possible so that law enforcement officials could practice responding to what an actual crisis situation might be like.
It began around 8 a.m., when law enforcement officials were briefed and conducted safety checks to ensure that no live weapons were brought into the school.
A law enforcement officer assigned the role of the shooter entered the building around 9 a.m. and fired blank rounds inside.
Then, various law enforcement teams entered the school, removed the "shooter," escorted students and teachers out of the building, and cleared the building and surrounding areas.
Ellison Groves, a rising ninth-grader at Philip Simmons High School, was among the students who participated. Groves said the drill wasn't scary: She couldn't hear the gunshots since she was in a classroom upstairs.
"It kind of felt a little weird because it's never really happened before," she said. "But other than that it was normal."
Groves said she sometimes thinks about the possibility of a school shooter but hasn't really expected an incident would ever happen to her or her classmates.
"We have talked about it in school before," she said. "Sometimes when we do lockdown drills our teachers talk to us about what could happen and why we're doing them."
The exercise wasn't confined to stopping the shooter and evacuating students. In the afternoon, students, parents and school officials practiced a re-unification drill, a process that involved busing students from the school to another location off-site.
By 2:30 p.m., the students were bused to Timberland High School, about 30 miles away, where their parents picked them up.
BCSD Safety and Security Director Tim Knight said the entire operation took years to plan. He said the district holds annual active shooter training and many other emergency drills each year, but Tuesday's exercise was its first re-unification drill.
"If we did have an emergency event at the school such as an active shooter, or even a weather emergency, we need to have a good plan in place to be able to evacuate the teachers, students and staff at the school to a safe location and re-unify the students with their parents," Knight said.
The primary purpose of the morning drill was to train law enforcement officials, Troutman said, but it also provided an opportunity for school administrators and students practice lockdown procedures.
"Prevention is the best cure," said Berkeley County School Superintendent Eddie Ingram. "I don't have a crystal ball. Nobody does. But we want to be as prepared as possible."
South Carolina school safety resources have increased in recent years, as school shootings and other mass shootings continue. Last year, a new state law required all schools to conduct active shooter drills at least twice a year.
This year, the Berkeley County School District added two members to its campus safety and security team, effectively doubling it.
Meanwhile, Charleston County School District also has installed three bullet resistant doors in schools as part of a pilot program. The district will review further options once the program ends this year, according to Andy Pruitt, a district spokesperson. The district also has worked with local law enforcement to increase police presence in schools.
Ingram said the mindset surrounding school safety shifted significantly after the 1999 Columbine shooting that killed 13 people.
"Every student that we have in our schools was born after the year 2000. Columbine was in 1999," he said. "It's always been a part of their experience in life, and it's something they deal with. So they know it's there, they're aware of it, but they are trusting in the adults to help them stay safe."