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Local Law Enforcement Prepares for ‘Active Shooter’ Response

 

“Prepare for the worst, hope for the best”, is a fair summation for the Active Shooter Training program being practiced by the Prowers County Sheriff’s Office. Estimates of school shootings in the U.S. for 2018 are at least above a dozen with the most recent being two wounded and the shooter dead in Maryland on March 20th and 17 students in Florida shot dead on Valentine’s Day and the alleged shooter apprehended and awaiting his trial.

The Prowers County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for safety in the county which includes the schools in Wiley, Granada, Holly and Alta Vista. Deputies have begun to train for their response, simulating an active shooter scenario at each of the schools, to provide officers and staff with guidelines of what to expect in those situations and how best to provide a safe outcome for all concerned.

The Prowers Journal spoke with Prowers County Undersheriff Sam Fief and Sergeant Mike Palacios about the training program and what they expect it to accomplish. The most recent exercise was held at Granada High School on March 9th and a similar exercise was held February 23rd in Holly.  A similar training program was held in Wiley last year.

Sergeant Palacios said the training did not involve any students as they were held on Fridays when classes are not in session, but that might change. He said Superintendent Cory Doss in Holly thought there might be some student participation later on, but no one is making a call on that right now, “We all want some experience on this,” he explained, as each of the schools have their own policies and procedures for emergency evacuations.

Undersheriff Fief said the priorities are to minimize any injuries, “Although our response is pretty much the same at each school…you have to assess the problem, you want to get inside as quickly as possible if there’s a shooter and eliminate the threat.” He added, “We stress the training for our own department staff as you never know what a reaction will be in a confrontation…whether someone freezes or reacts, but the more practice and practical training, the more your responses can become second nature to what’s facing you at the moment.”

Both officers stressed the importance of communication, especially among the school, dispatch and the officers in the field. It all has to become coordinated so each party has access to the other.  Sergeant Palacios provided some background on this issue.  “Several years ago, Sheriff Faull instituted a system through a grant offered to all the schools in the county and with the exception of Lamar at the time, all came on board.”  He said the radios are designed to have direct communication with law officials or dispatch in a crisis.  “Information comes to the dispatch center and first responders are given the alert of a problem and that’s relayed to us and we determine what type of response is warranted.  Dispatch can then put the schools radios in direct communication with our channels so we can now talk to them directly.”  He added that Sheriff Zordel has been working on a grant which will finance an update for all the systems in the schools, to include programming which ties in directly with a school’s public address system to direct students and staff where to go to safety which can be monitored by law officials.  At present Holly and Granada schools can tie in to a video monitor where school cameras can view activities and be monitored outside the school building.

Undersheriff Fief said the Holly exercise used a large group of responders, “We had our own department as well as Hamilton County from Kansas, Kiowa County, the Colorado State Patrol, Lamar officers, the DA’s office sent an investigator to take part and the Department of Wildlife also had representation in the exercise. Because we are all small sized communities, it may come to a point where everyone has to assist.”  He said everyone was mindful of the distances involved in an emergency when Holly is almost a half hour from Lamar and day to day patrol cars may be in another part of the county when an emergency occurs.  “It’s possible that Hamilton County might be in a position to arrive first, so it makes sense to have them involved,” he explained.  He said it also gives all the parties a chance to become acquainted with the physical layout of each school, so they can more quickly respond to the problem area.

Sergeant Palacios said some schools are thinking of color coordinating locations in the building when officers can be told to head down the red corridor or blue depending on where a shooting may be occurring. The training exercise in Holly went for more than four hours and involved several shooting scenarios, giving everyone there a chance to respond and react, sometimes with two or three officers in a group and sometimes with one or shooters.  Fief said, “We had 24 participants in Holly with some people left out of one scenario, so to take advantage of the gathering, we ran six different events with larger or smaller groups responding.”

He said an assessment on the performance is still being evaluated and an outside party may take part in the future to offer a different perspective on how the training is being conducted. He added that the hardest part with getting everyone on board with communications.  “Every department has their own routine and plans, so coordination is very important, even to making sure our radios are matched to the same frequency so we can respond to each other.  What we’re doing now has really changed since these types of things began years ago.”

He said the introductory letter to the schools for the practices are asking for coordination with each school taking part at least once a quarter through the year. “We have some agencies, like the DOW that have never been inside some of the schools and can have the chance to take part and we can learn from one another with an exchange of ideas and experiences.”  He said the teachers and staff get an idea of what is involved in practice scenarios, “From the gear we wear to the weapons we bring to the training session.  Some realize how hard it is to communicate with the noise from gunfire from the simulators and by the speed of our response.”  He added that for some at one time, it became a little unnerving for some educators when some of the trainees were getting hit with shooting markers in the exercise, but the training sessions are intended to help everyone become acclimated to a real scenario and learn what their responses are to that kind of situation.

The teachers realize that they may become the information conduit, sometimes between the shooter and the law officials, having to relay information and describe the scene as it has played out, to describe a weapon, a person or colors of clothing, all in a few short moments. The officers said that more parents are beginning to talk to their children about the shootings that have taken place across the country and these training sessions are some form of comfort to know that precautions are being taken to help make their children and students a little safer.

By Russ Baldwin

 

Filed Under: City of GranadaCity of HollyCity of LamarCity of WileyCountyEventsFeaturedHot TopicsLaw EnforcementPolice ReportPublic SafetySchoolYouth

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