CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CN) – Fake gunshots rang out through a North Carolina courthouse Friday as part of an active shooter training simulation that prevented non-employee visitors from entering the building for several hours.
The Mecklenburg County Courthouse in uptown Charlotte is a large, modern building bustling with attorneys, judges, custodial staff, government employees and citizens. Court officials and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office collaborated to develop an active shooter training exercise that unfolded inside the courthouse Friday afternoon.
Closing a courthouse to the public can impact a variety of civic functions, but Sheriff Garry McFadden said he will “take the flak” for his decision if it means that everyone is better prepared in the event of a crisis.
“Sheriff McFadden is moving in a different direction where he would like the services of the sheriff’s office to become much broader,” Jason Beebe, a major with the sheriff’s office who participated in Friday’s drill, said in an interview.
“We don’t have to just provide court systems and detention facilities with civil process. We can actually accommodate full-service law enforcement,” Beebe added. “Especially with the sheriff being responsible for the management of the courts, he also wants to protect the court staff who occupies the property as well as the public who is here to visit.”
McFadden was elected to his position last November, and has since ruffled feathers by working to reduce Charlotte’s cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Pamela Escobar, the courthouse’s community access and outreach coordinator, worked with the sheriff’s department to organize the exercise.
“The primary purpose of an armed assailant drill is to help law enforcement and court leaders to identify and correct deficiencies in knowledge, communication, coordination, and decision-making,” according to a statement from the court administrator’s office. “Court officials simply seek to save lives by preparing and empowering tenants of the courthouse to respond appropriately should the need ever arise.”
Escobar, who has worked at the courthouse for about three years, said she was unable to hear the “shots fired” from her fourth-floor office. She was evacuated as part of the training by a sheriff’s deputy.
The exercise walked participants through a realistic, active shooter situation from start to finish.
McFadden said the fact that some people could not hear the blanks fired downstairs during the drill by a sheriff’s deputy was an important lesson learned. He also mentioned the importance of developing an alert system that is accessible to people who have difficulty with hearing, vision or mobility.
The sheriff told Courthouse News that a simulation, rather than just a tabletop discussion, can enhance preparedness by helping staff realize what it could feel like to be in a dangerous active shooter situation.
Court officials said in a statement that incidents of an active shooting in courthouses are very rare.
Members of the public could still file documents with the court across the street in the criminal magistrate office on Friday afternoon.
In the event of a real-life crisis at the courthouse, McFadden said he is unsure if the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the city’s fire department would respond to the call as well.
Either way, the sheriff said his department would be ready.