News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, April 30, 2013
GRANITEVILLE, S.C. (WRDW) -- Inside the Gregg Plant in Graniteville, there's a man with a gun. There are rigged bombs, too. Pairs of deputies with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office are dispatched to the scene as if it were a real-life incident. However, it's just a drill.
"Whether it's a Walmart, a bank, a movie theater, a manufacturing place, schools, we're just really trying to simulate that work environment to let the deputies know that stuff goes wrong," said Sgt. Jason Feemster with the Sheriff's Office.
Each team of two deputies gets a crack at interactive situations. Gripping blue plastic Glock handguns, they tactically move into the darkened, empty building, while imagining a realistic situation where dozens of workers could be hiding and screaming behind their desks.
Sometimes there's a hostage, which is really just a life-sized dummy. Other times a gunman, who also works for the Sheriff's Office, spreads toxic gas to test if deputies can get gas masks on quickly while responding to the active shooting incident where workers theoretically are in danger.
Feemster points out just how difficult it is to see and navigate through smoke while donning a gas mask. He also says situations like the ones they're training to resolve have happened and will continue to happen, both near and far.
"As we've seen through Boston and other situations, [the suspects are] just cruel, and they're going to do whatever they can to impact greatly," he said.
For exercises like the one on Tuesday, a lot of sweat, a lot of planning and a lot of fireworks are involved.
Feemster says the scenarios are modeled after Aiken's Phelon plant shooting in 1997 and the shooting at the DSS in North Augusta a year earlier.
"This is training. This is real life stuff, and that's what's going to happen in real life," Feemster said.
He says while deputies are trained to be vigilant, he encourages members of the public to do their parts, too. He says when it comes to tipping off law enforcement, it's better safe than sorry.
The Sheriff's Office has trained inside and around the deserted Graniteville mills before. Ultimately, Feemster says it's invaluable training in a perfect setting.
"We train to win," Feemster said. "And this training makes that possible."