The exercise, sponsored by the Spring River Paramedic Ambulance Service, gave participants real life experience in how to handle an active shooter/ hostage situation.
Horrible mass shooting tragedies, such as the recent Colorado movie theater incident, are tragedies that no community should have to deal with. But, in reality, attacks happen, and training to practice diffusing situations is vital.
A multi-jurisdictional event includes not only law enforcement, but emergency responders, and the communication between the entities in an every changing emergency situation was the main purpose for the local training session.
Grace Richeson and Jeff Graefe with Spring River Paramedic Ambulance Service (SRPAS) began organizing the training over a month ago. Members of their ambulance crews came to Richeson after the Colorado tragedy, voicing their concern over the lack of training for this type of event. "We chose the event based on national news, to make it pertinent," Richeson said.
Cherokee Village Police Chief Rick Crook offered to be in charge of the law enforcement end of the session, as Richeson and Graefe planned the scenario. Crook explained, after the exercise, that he had one officer question why they weren't made aware of details about the training prior to arriving on the scene. Crook said it was vital that the session be as realistic as possible, explaining that, had it been an actual event, officers would not have arrived on the scene knowing exactly what they would encounter. "This is why we have to think on our toes. Things change and we can't know what is going to happen in these situations."
Other than Richeson and Graefe, no one knew the scenario until the "victims" were told of what would happen minutes prior to beginning the mock up. The scenario was set in the funeral home during a funeral service. The deceased grandfather had cut his grandson out of his will and, given his portion to other family members. As the service was underway, the "shooter" (Cherokee Village Police Officer Jeremy Rose) entered the chapel killing one person, and injuring others before taking them hostage and confining them to a small room at the rear of the building.
The victims pled for their lives as he continued to shoot. Law enforcement established radio contact from the staging location and began the negotiations via a law enforcement radio band, which is on police scanners. This caused some citizens, who heard the traffic to call police to see if the incident was real.
Officers from the central staging location then determined what they felt to be the best method to diffuse the situation, and get all victims and hostages out of the building.
After action was taken, and negotiations were made to satisfy the shooter, law enforcement teams came into the hostage area and secured the scene, escorting the hostages from the building. Medical crews entered the building, and performed assessments on the victims, who had tags attached to their necks indicating their various injuries. EMT's and Paramedics then responded to the injuries using their medical training to stabilize the patients, before they could be removed from the building and loaded in ambulances for transport. Police and medics then called the coroner for those who were "killed" in the attack.
During the exercise, Arkansas State Police Sergeant, Mack Thompson, who is a member of the Arkansas State Police SWAT team and has extensive training in hostage situations, monitored the reaction and response of law enforcement. He took notes to provide a post-exercise critique. "Everyone is going to make mistakes," Thompson said, "That is how we learn."
Richeson said she felt the mock up went well. "The event was organized to provide an opportunity for Spring River Ambulance to work with the local fire and police entities. We had all the quad cities fire and police departments, Sharp County Sheriff's Department, Arkansas State Police, UACCB paramedic students and Air Evac participating. I was pleased with the people who played our victims. They did a great job. The active shooter did a good job. We wanted to make this as realistic as we could to encourage people to think on their feet. This is what we do in this business, because things change and, in this scenario, they did change. They responded, and the entities worked well together. They got an organized system going early, which was really important."
Richeson explained, in any situation such as this, there are numerous things going on simultaneously. "We had our scene, a staging area where police and fire met and set up their plan and who was going to do what. It was an organized response. We also had a rep from Air Evac set up a mock landing zone because, in times like this, they would be transporting. I was very pleased with how everyone worked together and responded."
Richeson said the biggest hurdle in this type of event is communication. A rapid response to a situations is vital to saving lives and getting victims out of the situation. It falls on local law enforcement.
The training exercise was relatively brief in comparison to many hostage type events that can last several hours, or even days, and warrant SWAT Teams' presence.
Richeson stressed that safety was the primary concern during the scenario. Law enforcement were carrying "red guns," with no live or simulated ammunition.
SRPAS thanked Heath Funeral Home for allowing it to use the facility for the training, as well as the volunteers who served as victims, hostages and in other roles.