Training for law enforcement, emergency response stress unified response to situations

Published 4:30 pm Monday, October 30, 2023

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ADAMS — As the country sits in the shadow of last week’s mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine that claimed the lives of 18 and injured 13 more, law enforcement and emergency response personnel were training in Saturday on how to respond to just this kind of scenario.

Law enforcement and emergency response from across Southern Minnesota were on hand for and all-day training session at Southland Public Schools. The point of the training was a three-pronged approach centered on stopping the killing, stopping the dying and starting the healing according to Freeborn County Emergency Management Director Rich Hall.

“By stopping the killing, law enforcement goes in and stops the threat,” said Hall, who was also Saturday’s Public Information Officer. “Once that threat is eliminated, what they feel is the threat is eliminated, we know we no longer have that golden hour. What we want to do then is secure the area with law enforcement and then bring our rescue teams in to grab the victims that are alive yet, bring them out to a casualty collection point where the medics can take care of them and get them going.”

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Originally planned for February of 2020 before COVID-19 and the ensuing pandemic forced its cancellation, Saturday’s training hosted by the Mower County Sheriff’s Office, was devoted to the idea of forming incident response around a unified command.

Through this type of structure, responding agencies are coordinated into a single-minded response that ensures everybody is on the same page when reacting to an event.

“How to go in and work and set up and establish an incident command,” Hall said.

A large part of that training fortifies the idea of immediate response. During the Columbine school shooting in 1999, the building wasn’t entered until SWAT arrived on scene.

That type of response is no longer the norm and law enforcement is instead trained to enter immediately to eliminate the threat.

“We now know we’re getting in that door,” said Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik. “We’re going to save people and you’re not going to wait. It’s a learning process and you’re taking what you can from each (incident).”

As part of that response, there is an element to getting emergency responders in the doors of an incident as soon as possible in order to treat any that were injured, which punctuates further the idea of having a unified command that can quickly organize the situation.

“We do that by bringing them in with law enforcement protecting them,” Hall said. “They are checking pulses, checking the bleeding, grabbing them and getting them out of there. They aren’t doing any real work right there other than a quick assessment to get them to a casualty collection point where they are safe in a safe environment and they can start working on them.”

While the morning of Saturday’s training was used for classroom work, the afternoon was used to run through intense scenarios that instructors hope will lead to a cohesiveness should a situation arise in the future.

Situations included a walk through and then live drills designed to be strenuous for those involved, knowing that mistakes would be made.

But that is part of the exercises: to identify mistakes and work to rectify those mistakes in order to be fully prepared should a real life situation arise. Gaining the ability to efficiently work together is all part of the training process.

“It’s very, very important because when these types of things occur, people come from all over so we have people from far and wide here today,” Sandvik said Saturday morning. “It gives us that familiarity and everybody understands they are on the same page.”

While training Saturday focused on an active shooter situation, Sandvik said that the training has applications outside those types of threats.

He used the Taopi tornado in 2022 as one such example as well as the recent incident involving a vehicle that struck a buggy belonging to an Amish family that killed two in late September: 11-year-old Irma Miller and her sister seven-year-old Wilma Miller. In both instances, multiple agencies from in the incident’s area and outside responded.

“It doesn’t have to be a mass assault incident,” Sandvik said. “It can be a natural disaster. Knowing how to work together is vitally important.”