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Pentagon’s SWAT Team Holds ‘Active Shooter’ Drill at Gainesville District School Building

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[Photo: Mary Davidson / Potomac Local News]

HAYMARKET, Va. — Dimly lit hallways, exposed brick, and shattered pieces of drywall and concrete lay on the floor at the Gainesville District School.

The building  built in 1935 and most recently served as Prince William County’s the PACE West School. After PACE West relocated, the building was sold last month to Quality Business Engineering, or QBE Global, a federal contracting and real estate firm.

And that’s when the Pentagon’s force protection SWAT team took interest. They, along with Prince William fire and rescue personnel, were training inside the building Tuesday for an “active shooter” scenario, inside a portion of the old school house that is being renovated and will later QBE’s corporate headquarters.

The SWAT team’s training scenario: someone inside the building is firing a gun, taking mass casualties and hostages. The force protection unit must go inside, immobilize the shooter, and afterward fire and rescue personnel will then be called into to remove and treat the shooting victims.

QBE employees donned in black projective masks and inoperable weapons were assigned to pose as victims, hostages, and bad guys.

“Fortunately, I have a large company with many employees who volunteered to be shot at,” said QBE owner Shawn Landry.

More like shooting paint ball than live fire, the Pentagon’s SWAT team was slated to use chalk projectiles that would leave a mark on their targets, said Landry. Several old chalkboards and whiteboards were cut up to create barriers to hide behind, creating an indoor maze among inside these dusty, dark, debris-filled corridors.

These training scenarios have become regular occurrences as of late at the Gainesville District School. Landy said he’s invited fire and rescue teams from the nearby Antioch and Nokesville fire departments to train here, utilizing a no-burning, artificial smoke approach to create real-life, hair raising scenarios that keep first responders on their toes.

“It’s not as easy to find places to train as it used to be,” said Lt. Jeff Howyshell, of the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department.

There’s a moratorium in the county on burning old buildings that would create a smoky environment to train in. Other buildings that can be burned are riddled with asbestos, and fire departments must pay cumbersome costs to have the asbestos removed before they’re burned.

The Gainesville District School building is subdivided, with a preschool renting the rear of the building and a church renting the gymnasium and stage space. Landry said he plans to open a restaurant in the old cafeteria area that will be opened to the public once building renovations are complete.

The Pentagon’s Force Protection team is in place to protect some 35,000 employees housed at the world’s largest office building in Arlington. The team is often referred to as “ninjas” or “men in black,” and they are tasked with protecting more than 18 miles of hallways and corridors and the Pentagon Metro station and transit bus terminal.

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