SAN ANTONIO – Crammed into a conference room in a hotel on the Riverwalk, dozens of first responders scrambled to take control of the chaos.
Gathered around laptop screens and radios, they worked to take down active shooters at an airport and train station, as well as get the wounded to the hospital. As noise and new information filled the air, the one thing that didn't was actual bullets.
Though the tension and chaos were real, the situation wasn't. The dispatchers, law enforcement members, fire and emergency medical services crews were all working through a scenario for a day they hoped would never come.
"As criminals invent new ways to harm people, law enforcement needs to invent new ways to stay ahead of that and protect people," Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said.
The Bexar County Sheriff's Office is hosting what Salazar believes is a first-of-its-kind training course in the area for first responders. As part of a three-day course, participants from a variety of agencies are using a simulation system to work through 10 different active-shooter scenarios in order to neutralize the shooter and get the wounded to the hospital as fast as possible.
"We have complex, coordinated attacks, IED attacks, multiple shooters, single shooters. We have schools. We have airports. We have courthouses," Deputy Chief Ari Jimenez said.
Sitting at different tables just feet away from each other, each group focuses on their part of a quickly changing puzzle and communicates the pieces to the others. All of the chaos is on purpose, meant to get the first responders used to the noise and confusion of a real emergency.
"The simulation system enables us to exercise very, very large scenarios that would normally take 200-300 responders, 200-300 role players and do it with 50, 60, 70 people," said Bill Godfrey, lead instructor.
The training was planned before the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, but coming just a week and a half later, it's hard to separate the course from that day.
"A lot of them are thinking the same thing I was thinking out in Wilson County: 'But for the grace of God, this could be my county. This could be my citizens,'" Salazar said.
While the scenarios are the focus of the course, Salazar urged the participants to network with each other, using his own experience as a lesson.
Just days before the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Salazar said he invited more than a dozen area sheriffs together for a luncheon as a way to get to know each other. Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt was among the sheriffs at the table, and Salazar was able to meet him and get to know him a little bit -- something that would pay dividends more quickly than he had thought.
"Had we not had that networking event two days prior, Sheriff Tackitt and I never would have met, but since I had spoken to him, I'd met him, we'd spoken - On Sunday, I could tell a little bit about what his needs were based upon what I was hearing in his voice," Salazar said.