Police rehearse ‘active shooter’ situation in Fort Mill

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comFebruary 22, 2013 

  • More information Fort Mill PD trains, too The Fort Mill Police Department didn’t participate in last week’s training, but officers are prepared to meet the “always evolving” challenges of readying for an active shooter, said Maj. Bryan Zachary. “Everybody understands the roles we have in a situation like that,” he said. The Fort Mill department conducts annual training, sometimes with outside agencies like the sheriff’s office and at other times during its own in-service. Zachary said Columbine was the catalyst behind most any law enforcement group planning not only what it would do during such an event, but how to coordinate with neighboring agencies. “The methodology is the same,” Zachary said. “The indicators – everybody’s on the same page.”

— Sgt. Buddy Brown thought up the most chaotic scenarios his mind would allow, set them into motion and sent dozens of officers toward the sound of gunfire.

He did so hoping that an actual active shooter situation never catches local law enforcement off guard.

“This is absolutely the worst case scenario that I could imagine happening, but we have to be trained and prepared for it,” said Brown, who trained officers last week with the York County Sheriff’s Office and York Police Department.

Officers spent several days at Knights Stadium for the annual refresher on how to deal with a shooter using deadly force and with continued access to victims. Past trainings have been in schools or factories. Fort Mill sites to host the training include Carowinds, Barn Yard Flea Market and the PTL property.

The baseball stadium was useful in that it provides a variety of scenarios officers may encounter – stadium seating to replicate an auditorium or arena, stairwells, multiple smaller rooms and large open spaces.

“It fits a lot of venues,” said Lt. Brian Boling, training manger for the sheriff’s office.

High profile active shooter events like those in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., work themselves into future training. The 1999 shootings at Columbine High School became a “watershed” event in how law enforcement responds, Brown said. Now, officers don’t wait for backup to arrive.

“These people aren’t looking to have a fight with us,” Brown said. “They aren’t looking for someone armed and ready to bring the fight to them.”

From deputies who intervened in the 1966 tower shootings at the University of Texas, to reports that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter stopped firing on others due – at least in part –to the sound of police sirens, history helps form a game plan for law enforcement.

“We want them to know we’re coming,” Brown said.

Some training lessons last week were nearly universal – assume multiple suspects, stay off walls, communicate, don’t move faster than officers “can shoot accurately.” Others were more area specific. The standard arrangement has four officers arranged in a diamond pattern, but due to largely rural areas in the county, officers trained in pairs.

Two partners near an incident would “lose too many lives in the meantime” waiting two more, Brown said.

Officers talked about possible scenes from large workplaces to schools. They discussed transporting the injured when medical help may be a mile or more away. Mostly, they were on scene last week to get their heart rates up and induce some stress.

“We do this every year,” Boling said. “They know it’s training. They know it’s a drill. When the sound of that gun goes off, it does something to you.”

Taylor Swanson, 18, participated as a victim during the training. She spent her day screaming and directing officers in drills, as she often does through a sheriff’s office program. Events like this one, she said, make her more confident going into public places were something could occur.

“I don’t think anyone’s really ever prepared for a situation like this,” she said of society. “We can only inform them as much as we can, but at least our law enforcement knows what to do.”

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