Carrying "sim-guns" training weapons loaded with color-coded wax bullets and wearing protective gear, more than 40 officers from a number of Char-West Council of Governments' police departments trained under pressure during mock emergency drills involving the premise of an active shooter.
The all-day maneuvers Jan. 2 at South Fayette High School, which was closed for the holiday break, were part of the ongoing mission of the Char-West COG Chiefs of Police to follow the same training when responding to incidents like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Twenty first-graders and six educators died in the shooting last month in Newtown, Conn.
It was coincidental that the drill was held shortly after the Sandy Hook event. The training had been in the works since October, said South Fayette Police Chief Louis Volle.
Additionally, the group has plans to gather next Thursday with school superintendents and district safety officers in the Char-West COG to continue work on an emergency plan for districts to follow in such situations.
"Anytime something happens to anybody you just stop and wonder, 'can it happen here?' It's a scary thought," said Chief Volle. His thoughts on the day of the school shooting turned to his grandchildren, the chief said. His "two little guys" are elementary students.
"I wish I had the answer as to how to stop this," said Chief Volle. "It was just horrible. I never thought I would see this, and that's not as a police officer, but as a citizen."
During the training, officers used color-coded Simunition, a nonlethal training ammunition, to analyze how they reacted under pressure. Chief Volle said the wax Simunition leaves colored markings that enable officers to see if someone is hitting their targets.
"Holy cow! Who shot the ceiling?" he joked.
The mock drill also served as an opportunity to learn from other tragedies and included a scenario in which a teacher refused to allow police to enter a classroom. The officers involved in this procedure practiced different ways to gain entry to the barricaded room.
Chief Volle did not disclose details of the scenarios played out that day, saying, "We can't tell you how we do it. We can just tell you that we do it. We don't want the bad guys preparing for us. We want the advantage."
Officer Nicholas Hryadil, a 12-year veteran with Stowe, was one of approximately 45 officers in the drill. He said the mock drill taught them tactics for responding to a mass shooting and how to enter a building quickly and neutralize the threat.
"In the past, typical response was to wait for the SWAT team," Officer Hryadil said.
Training all 19 Char-West COG police departments to respond in the same manner allows those responding to a crisis to work in unison instead of at cross purposes.
If an emergency happened at a heavily populated building like a school, shopping mall or office building in South Fayette, Chief Volle said his four officers would not be enough, and backups from surrounding communities would be called in.
He compared Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training to a football playbook. You may know all the plays, but if you don't get out to practice with the team, you won't be able to execute the moves.
COG member communities have approximately 350 police officers who have participated in Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training.
Sonja Reis, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published January 10, 2013 10:15 AM