Law enforcement prepares, in case it happens here

What if it happened in Warren County?

A joint training exercise involving around 100 personnel from area law enforcement agencies, emergency medical services and the Warren County School District took place at Youngsville High School on Saturday.

“This exercise is not in response to any particular situation or threat. ‘Active Shooter’-based drills or exercises are a routine part of law enforcement training and occur often in communities across the country,” Bill Mickle, a law enforcement officer for the U. S. Forest Service, explained. “We hope to never have to utilize this training and the chance of an active shooter event occurring in our community is slim. That being said it would be negligent to adopt the ‘it can’t happen here’ attitude and not prepare and train for such a catastrophe.”

Mickle explained that an active shooter is defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as “An individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.”

“After Columbine, we went from the traditional patrol response, where we contain, control and call SWAT, to a non-traditional response by first responders. The first arriving officers conduct a rapid deployment to engage the threat or threats,” he added.

Mickle said the patrol response doesn’t work in active shooter situations, partly because the average duration of those scenarios is just 12 minutes, and 37 percent last under five minutes. By the time SWAT teams arrive, the damage is already done.

He said, “As an Active Shooter Instructor, I received my training and certification from the National Tactical Officers Association and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. The goal of the program is to teach area law enforcement standardized and consistent response tactics.”

“We want responding officers to have the same training and deploy in a consistent manner. This provides a quicker, safer and more efficient response to an active shooter situation so responding officers are on ‘the same page’ no matter what jurisdiction or agency they work for,” he added.

On Saturday, the local Explorer troop acted as some of the victims in a school shooting, partly because the troop members are affiliated with law enforcement and some of the tactics used are confidential.

Twelve victims were made up with fake blood, simulating gunshot wounds.

Local law enforcement agencies, including Youngsville Borough Police, the City of Warren Police, Conewango Township Police and the Warren County Sheriff’s office worked in teams to stop the shooter and secure the scene for emergency medical first responders.

After police subdued the active shooter, they then provided security while EMS teams first performed triage for the victims, to determine who would be treated first and who was already dead, then got the living out of the building for treatment and transport.

Additionally, around 20 observers from the Warren County School District and one from the YMCA watched and learned within the school

Medical personnel from Emergycare, Youngsville, Sugar Grove and Russell volunteer fire departments took the training as well, amid ‘smoke,’ recorded screams, flashing lights and fire alarms. The recordings, lights and smoke were provided by UPMC Hamot.

During a debriefing in the YHS auditorium afterwards, Mickle told the participants, “It went well. We all learned a lot.”

Regarding the confusing noise and visual effects, he told the group that in a real-life situation, they would not have a lot of information.

“You need to adjust, and you did,” he said. “Many of the law enforcement people here today have never worked together before, yet you became a cohesive unit.”

After a question about controlling bystanders, Mickle said handling them and other members of the public will be addressed in future training sessions.

Harry Latta, a tactical medic with the Erie Police Department, also worked as an instructor, and he told the EMS personnel, “You see how confusing it can be. It was just a quick taste of what would be going on.”

According to the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group’s website, 51 percent of the attacks studied occurred in the workplace, 17 percent occurred in a school, 17 percent occurred in a public place, and six percent occurred in a religious establishment.

Additionally, 49 percent of attackers committed suicide, 34 percent were arrested, and 17 percent were killed.