Training offers police hands-on experience with mass casualties

EL RENO — The pop, pop, pop that resonated throughout the church were obvious sounds of guns being fired.

By the time the five police officers approached the scene, it was too late.

One person lay dead, two others were wounded. One man walked from a room with a gun in his hand, another gunman hid in a room. Soon, both would be either dead or seriously injured.

Fortunately, it was just one of the scenarios that law enforcement officers from about 10 departments found themselves facing this week as they participated in an active-shooter simulation at Heaston Church, southwest of El Reno.

The class, sponsored by ALERRT, was a Level 2 class that involves how police should react when dealing a mass casualty incident similar to what happened earlier this week in Las Vegas.

The class was not in response to the mass shooting. It had been planned for more than a year, but officials said it was appropriately timed to show how much the training is needed.

“It (Las Vegas) shows how much it is needed. It has happened here (Oklahoma) before at Fort Gibson and at the Murrah Building bombing,” said one participant, who asked to not be identified.

Law enforcement officers from Yukon, Mustang and the Canadian County sheriff’s office participated in the training, as did officers from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the Oklahoma County sheriff’s office, Union City, Shawnee, El Reno, Tulsa Air National Guard and Tulsa Technology Center.

The class, which lasted all week, was sponsored by the Canadian County sheriff’s office. It was free to the departments who participated.

The class is offered by Texas State University and began in 2001 following the deadly shootings at Columbine High School.

“We needed to come up with another way for officers to respond. Columbine was the first active shooter that we had in United States. … We found that our tactics didn’t work with that phenomenon, where people were killing for the want and sake of killing. We had never had that before,” said instructor Doug Herrington

At that time, the officers set up a perimeter and called in SWAT. That’s what they had always been taught to do, he said.

“We can’t wait for SWAT. In an active shooter event. Every shot that is fired, an innocent is being killed or hurt,” Herrington said.

That resulted in ALERRT, which stands for Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response.

Since its inception, more than 115,000 law enforcement officers have been trained through the program. It also has been taught in every state except Alaska, as well as several other countries.

The current class is an instructor-based event, teaching officers how to instruct their fellow officers on how to handle similar incidents.

It also was based not only on stopping the shooter, it also focused on helping those who had been injured. In most cases, emergency medical personnel will not enter an active situation until the area has been cleared. That puts life-saving efforts in the hands of those already on the scene.

The benefit is everyone knowing to use the same techniques.

“What they are doing today is not just tactics, it’s medical … ,” he said.

There are three levels. The first involves how to stop the killing. Level 2 is how to stop the dying.

“Police officers have to learn how to apply a tourniquet, how to apply those live-saving techniques that will give that person an extra hour to survive to get to the surgeon’s table. The main thing we are doing here is teaching how to stop the bleeding, how to buy that patient an extra couple of hours,” Herrington said.

Throughout the day, the officers went through a variety of scenarios, all of which were based on incidents that have occurred.

Deputy Tyler Harris, a Canadian County deputy, said the program is successful.

More than 7,500 law enforcement personnel in Oklahoma have gone through the Level 1 class. There are about 11,000 officers in Oklahoma.

“We believe in this,” Harris said.

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