Gunshots rang out. Ambulances waited outside. Police and other first-responders scurried about. A street was shut down. “Victims” screamed as they were escorted to emergency vehicles.

It all was part of an active-shooter drill Wednesday in Grand Forks, conducted jointly by the Grand Forks Emergency Management Office, the local police and fire departments, Altru Health System and the school district. The event – certainly alarming to anyone who didn’t realize it was a planned drill – was held from roughly 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Central High School in Grand Forks.

More than 100 people participated. Some portrayed injured victims – bloody faces or wounds on an arm or leg – and some portrayed the dead.

It was stressful for participants, yet strangely reassuring to watch as the day progressed.

Just days after mass shootings in Texas and Ohio – which accounted for 31 total deaths – the drill in downtown Grand Forks provides a modicum of confidence that emergency responders are considering their response if tragedy happens.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

They have – evidenced by Wednesday’s drill – a plan.

According to the nonprofit group Gun Violence Archive, there have been 255 mass shootings this year in the United States. The GVA defines “mass shooting” as an incident in which at least four people are shot.

Included in that sad total are five incidents in the past two weeks: Dayton, Ohio (nine killed, 27 injured); El Paso, Texas (22 killed, 24 wounded); the Gilroy Garlic Festival in northern California (three killed, 15 injured); a shooting at a New York block party (one killed, 11 injured); and Southaven, Miss. (two killed, two injured).

The tragedies amplify the need for preparation.

A report on the website notes the importance of active-shooter training. In the report, retired Marine Sgt. Kathy Kelsheimer – an expert on attacker response – said classroom training can only go so far for responding to a real active-shooter situation.

She said practical training is “the only way to be prepared.” The report, based on Kelsheimer’s experience, said heightened tension in an active shooting situation can dramatically impact a responder’s motor skills. Therefore, the author notes, “the difference between book and classroom training and a well-choreographed simulated incident can be revealing.”

Wednesday’s drill in front of Central High School – and in full view from the windows of the Herald’s downtown office – was not in response to the weekend’s mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, but was months in the making. It certainly seemed well-choreographed.

And it made us wonder: Are other communities doing the same? Are our region’s schools and law-enforcement agencies conducting similar drills?

It’s important that they are, and residents should be saddened that it has come to this, yet thrilled that local agencies are formulating solid and specific plans.