(INDIANAPOLIS) – Six months after the Noblesville school shooting, Hamilton County first responders are offering a glimpse of how they handled it — and what they want to improve in case there’s a next time.
Hamilton County Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt told a state conference of county commissioners he’s proud of how public-safety agencies handled the May shooting which injured a seventh-grader and a teacher at Noblesville West Middle School. Sheriff Mark Bowen says he believes the casualties would have been higher if that teacher, Jason Seaman, hadn’t acted quickly to tackle and disarm the 13-year-old gunman.
But Bowen and public safety communications executive director Michael Snowden emphasize the critical importance of preparedness and training, for both Seaman and the police and dispatchers who rushed to the school or fielded 9-1-1 calls. Snowden says dispatchers had conducted regular training for “active shooter” incidents, including one just a day before. Sheriff’s deputies had been scheduled to hold a full-scale mass-shooting simulation at Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center when the real thing broke out.
Snowden says police knew the gunman’s identity within a minute, and had him in custody within three. But dispatchers and police had a full day’s work ahead. The dispatch center fielded 200 calls to 9-1-1 in the first hour after the shooting, a quarter of what they’d normally get in a full day. And Bowen notes officers had to corral students who had fled the building, and organize the evacuation of students and reunification with their parents.
The county upgraded its radios and dispatch software four years ago, which Snowden says made it far easier to coordinate with other police agencies who raced to assist. Responders also caught some good luck: because the shooting happened two days before the Indy 500, dozens of state troopers were at the Speedway and able to reach Noblesville quickly with extra manpower.
While the critical elements of securing the school and evacuating students went smoothly, the shooting exposed some peripheral issues to improve as the county updates its training. Snowden says students followed their own training perfectly — but it turns out to conflict with dispatchers’ normal protocol. He says dispatchers were puzzled by an outpouring of calls from students who told dispatchers what room they were in, whether they were safe, and who was with them, and then hung up. He says dispatchers will be trained on how active-shooter recommendations differ from the typical call.
Emergency management director Shane Booker says the county wasn’t prepared for an outpouring of food, water and ice for dispatchers, police and anxious parents. The Red Cross and Salvation Army helped to coordinate those donations as they arrived.
And Snowden says the food revealed another tweak to be made: no food in the dispatch center. He says workers wandering in to get something to eat created extra noise that made it harder for dispatchers to hear.
Hamilton County Sheriff Mark Bowen (right) with county public safety communications director Michael Snowden (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)