Preparing for the worst case

By Pat Caldwell
For the Malheur Enterprise

NYSSA – Last week law enforcement agencies and emergency service providers convened at Nyssa Elementary School to train for an incident no one hopes will ever happen.

Yet the kind of active shooter training held at the school Thursday and Friday is more important now than ever in the wake of deadly incidents in places like San Bernardino and Roseburg, officials say.

The event, hosted by the Nyssa Police Department and conducted by the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, was designed to familiarize law enforcement and emergency services personnel on how to react to a worst-case scenario that involves students, teachers and one or more gunmen.

“It is a two-day exercise with the same training each day,” Nyssa Police Chief Ray Rau said.

The event involved officers from area police agencies such as Ontario, the Oregon State Police along with fire and rescue departments from Vale, Nyssa and the Treasure Valley Paramedics.

Rau said the training session was a subject of interest in the past for his department and Nyssa School District Superintendent Janine Weeks.

“We have a pretty good working relationship. We’ve worked on this for a long time,” Rau said.

Weeks said the training session is a win-win for students, teachers and the community.

“If we can assist our local law enforcement to get some practice it is good for all of us,” Weeks said.

Weeks said the district recognizes an active shooter scenario is always a possibility.

“Enough that we do something like this. We don’t want it to happen but we need to plan in case it does,” Weeks said.

The training phase also involved local Nyssa students, teachers and volunteers to act as role-players during the exercise. Weeks said the experience secured by the role-players could prove critical in a future emergency.

“They can potentially leave here with some knowledge about what to do,” she said.

The realistic nature of the exercise is one of its essential components, said DPSST regional coordinator Mike Herbes.

“For them (emergency service personnel), it is the degree of realism that we put in to the scenarios,” he said.

That realism includes role players who lie “injured” in a school hallway, screams of pain, and youths running down the halls to avoid a gunman. At the same time, four police officers must march down the hallway, enter a classroom and neutralize the threat.

Inside that classroom – amid shadows and cones of darkness – the officers encounter additional distractions including more role players and an individual acting as a “gunman.”

The role players are just one pillar in a complex, realistic training platform that puts local police and emergency service providers in a position where quick, measured action is crucial.

Another important element to the training last week was the prominence placed on the deployment of fire department and medical personnel during an active shooter scenario.

“The main emphasis of the training is the incorporation of fire and medical EMTs to improve the cooperative management of this type of incident. To improve the immediate care of the injured,” Herbes said.

That meant pushing the medical and fire personnel forward in the scenario so that they followed on the heels of the responding law enforcement personnel.

“Medical staff will be going in fairly quickly, where in the past they waited until the building was totally secure,” Rau said.

How law enforcement personnel respond to an active shooter situation has evolved over the years, Rau said.

“In the old days you show up, secure the perimeter and wait for SWAT to show up,” he said.

Now, police are trained not to wait but to enter the building immediately upon arrival.

“We are going to enter the building, find the threat and eliminate the threat,” Rau said.

Herbes said in active shooter training, he teaches law enforcement personnel to expect the unexpected.

“I tell officers to be prepared and trained for the worst,” he said.

Nyssa High School sophomore Chris Ramirez, one of the volunteers who played roles during the training stint, said the event was valuable.

“I think it’s a great idea. We are helping the police officers train. I am happy I came,” he said.

Rau said an active shooter situation is a call he hopes he will never receive.

“This is the training you hope you never have to use. But this training is so valuable to us. It gives us a baseline of skills. We can take this training and expand on it,” he said.