Lacey prepares for school shootings

New procedures emphasize speed, teamwork among State Patrol, police, firefighters,

ckrotzer@theolympian.comAugust 3, 2013 

A Washington State Patrol trooper had his back to a fellow trooper and two Lacey police officers as they quickly made their way down the hallway.

The four were in a diamond formation with guns drawn, eyes peeled for signs of an active shooter. But in this case, the echo of gunshots was replaced with the voice of trainers offering up techniques to improve response.

The drill was part of an all-day active-shooter training at Komachin Middle School in Lacey on Friday at which law enforcement, firefighters and other emergency responders could hone their skills for the worst of situations.

It also allows officers to get used to ditching their traditional response tactics, according to Lacey Police Lt. Phil Comstock.

“Tactics changed 10 to 15 years ago — Columbine really kick-started it,” Comstock said of the 1999 school shooting in Colorado. “It’s now an active response.”

In the past, Comstock said, officers would wait outside a situation with an active shooter in order to build up forces before heading into danger. They also would spend time clearing rooms, moving slowly through the building.

Now initial response requires only a team of three or four officers with one goal: Find the shooter.

The first ones on scene immediately go inside, meaning the officers could be from different jurisdictions. Multi-jurisdictional trainings like Friday’s help build trust and familiarity among area agencies.

“Time is of the essence,” Comstock said. “They go toward the sounds, toward the bad guy, passing over injured people and evidence until they get it stopped and the situation neutralized.

“It’s a shift to train these officers that you might have to step over a person, but keep going. Someone will come and get them.”

The drill, hosted by the Lacey Police and Fire departments, is part of an annual exercise for the school district and emergency response crews.

Participants focus on small-scale drills and classroom training in the morning, followed by full-scale scenario training in the afternoon that includes student-actors screaming down the halls and simulated victims to encounter.

During the scenario, teams of officers enter a building, searching hallways and classrooms. As areas are cleared, additional teams of officers, firefighters and paramedics enter the building to assess the severity of injuries and casualties.

The first wave of rescue teams gives basic trauma care to victims, with the goal of spending no more than 30 seconds with each patient, according to Lacey Fire Chief Steve Brooks.

“We stop uncontrolled bleeding or reposition airways so people can breathe,” Brooks said. “The next team comes in and extracts the victims.”

Teams use large tarps to carry out multiple victims at a time; they are then tended to outside the building where it is deemed safe.

Fire crews from Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater, as well as Thurston County Medic One, were participating Friday.

Brooks said it can get quite loud during the actual scenario.

“It helps responders acclimate to what the true environment could be like,” Brooks said.

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476

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