Preparing for the worst
Working in tightly bunched groups of three or four, officers crouched as they moved stealthily through the halls of Lampasas High School, looking for a “gunman” and sprinting to a safe location when a “bomb” was found.
It was only a test, but sweat-streaked, stony faces and barked commands showed law enforcement personnel approached the training seriously.
This week the high school served as the site of two two-dayAdvanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Team anti-terrorism tactics programs.
ALERRT – which receives tactical research support, and state and federal funding through its partnership with Texas State University in San Marcos – has adapted SWAT techniques so they can be used by any law enforcement officer, said San Marcos Police Department Cpl. Tommy Villanueva, lead instructor during training in Lampasas.
Through classroom presentations and active drills – including shooting with training Glock pistols loaded with plastic-tipped simulated ammunition – participants learned how to control a crisis before specially trained teams arrive.
Officers learned how to approach and enter an armed suspect’s hiding place, evaluate conditions in a room before entering, work as a team, shoot and move through a crisis site, and respond appropriatelytoasuspect’sactions.Public safety personnel learned the different responses required, for example, for a barricaded subject as contrasted to a person actively trying to shoot others.
Officers also rehearsed how to work safely in a variety of situations in which improvised explosive devices may be present.
Anti-terrorism training is essential for law enforcement “first responders,” Villanueva said, as he said those officers must act decisively in the hour or so typically required for a SWAT team to arrive at a crisis scene.
About 20 officers from the Lampasas police and fire departments, the Lampasas County Sheriff’s Office, and the Copperas Cove, Gatesville and Marble Falls police departments completed the ALERRT course Monday and Tuesday, and other emergency responders received training later in the week.
Steve Sheldon, school resource officer for the Lampasas Police Department, applied about eight months ago for ALERRT classes in Lampasas. The two courses this week fulfilled Sheldon’s goal of having all Lampasas police officers, including investigators, attend training.
“The more we get through it, the more we’ll all be on the same page if something like this ever happens,” he said, “because we are the ones who will be responding.”
Methods of distracting or neutralizing an armed subject to prevent deaths and ALERRT’s emphasis on quick action, Sheldon said, were among the most important lessons of the recent classes.
“The faster you can act on somebody, the more likely will be saved or less lives harmed,” the school officer said.
LPD Sgt. Investigator Tim Ryan also said the ALERRT courses offered essential training to prepare officers for a mass-casualty situation. Law enforcement officers, he said, need to know how to react quickly to save lives.
“If you sit there and wait for a tactical team to come in, how many people are going to be killed?” Ryan asked.
The courses’emphasis on teamwork also is useful, Ryan said, in case public safety personnel must respond to an emergency alongside unfamiliar officers.
“You many not know or work with on a daily basis the people who respond to this [type of crisis],” he said. “Communication is key. You’ve got to communicate so everybody knows what’s going on.”
Coordination among agencies is important for the Lampasas police and fire departments, firefighter Joe Adams said, as several firefighters also are trained as police officers.
“Since we’re such a small town, it’s important we have the same training as the police department,”Adams said.
Adams, who completed ALERRT training a few years ago, said this week’s session gave him new insights into team tactics, communication strategies, assessments and other aspects of emergency response.
“Every time I do this I learn something new,” the firefighter said.
Since ALERRT began in 2002, the program has trained more than 40,000 officers across the United States in the Level 1 Basic Active Shooter Class, Villanueva said.
The program also offers more advanced shooter classes, instructor certifications, courses that simulate shootings in rural terrain, and classes about the effective carrying and use of weapons by plainclothes officers.
Sheldon said he hopes funds will be available for advanced ALERRT classes in the future.
“I know personally this is the best training I’ve ever had,” said the officer, who has worked in law enforcement almost 20 years.
As incidents like the recent Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting capture national attention, Villanueva said ALERRT staff are working hard to prepare law enforcement personnel for emergencies.
“We are training for that worst day, and we are trying to give our officers the tools to handle that situation,” he said. “We want our community to be safe, and that’s why we’re doing this.”