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March 27, 2014 7:41 am

Planning for the worst

Written by CJ Baker

During a March 19 training exercise, Park County Sheriff’s Deputy Jed Ehlers guards his team’s flank as they advance down a smoke-filled hallway at the old Powell High School, searching for a ‘gunman.’ The Powell Police Department hosted training for multiple law enforcement agencies at the former school where officers dealt with emergency scenarios and practiced how to work as a team. During a March 19 training exercise, Park County Sheriff’s Deputy Jed Ehlers guards his team’s flank as they advance down a smoke-filled hallway at the old Powell High School, searching for a ‘gunman.’ The Powell Police Department hosted training for multiple law enforcement agencies at the former school where officers dealt with emergency scenarios and practiced how to work as a team. Tribune photo by CJ Baker

Law enforcement agencies simulate emergencies at old high school  

Powell’s old high school got one more use as a place of learning this month — though of an entirely different kind.

Law enforcement officers from the Powell Police Department, Park County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Land Management used the soon-to-be-demolished school as a three-story training ground on March 12 and 19.

Police ran through multiple emergency scenarios — including those featuring “active shooters” inside the school — but Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt said a broader goal of the multi-agency training was to ensure that “everybody has a concept of how the other agencies work so we’re all on the same page.”

“Realistically, in Wyoming we’re not big enough ... to do any of these major operations on our own,” Eckerdt said. “We’ve got to rely on our neighbors.”

Some training leaves a lot to the imagination, but this month’s exercises provided a much more intense setting.

Employees of the sheriff’s office or the police department generally acted as aggressors — often armed with guns loaded with marking cartridges — while volunteers from Northwest College depicted panicked students.

The Powell Volunteer Fire Department lent smoke generators that clouded the halls and piercing “man-down” alarms that served as another distraction, all adding to the stress in an effort to make the training environment it as realistic as possible.

“When you’re in a smoke-filled hallway with the alarms going off, knowing that somebody may be shooting at you at any moment, and then you have the sound of gunfire and then you have somebody come running out of the smoke at you, it creates that opportunity to experience that stress of ‘Shoot? Don’t shoot? Is this the bad guy? ... What’s going on with them?’” Eckerdt said. “It adds some quality to the training.”

Part of the point of any training is to develop a level of comfort, and in this case, one focus was working as a team.

“The first time you do something together that requires coordination, chances are the ball’s going to get fumbled,” Eckerdt said.

The month’s exercises provided an opportunity for lower-stakes learning — where “shooting a civilian” meant little more than marking them with paint.

Eckerdt said the training at the vacated school meant no worries about making a mess, allowing police to use equipment like flashbangs that they typically cannot. He said police often have to simulate tactics, like breaking down a door, “just because that becomes very expensive.”

“We don’t want the first time that an officer does that to be when it’s for real,” Eckerdt said. “So having the opportunity to use those tools and see what works, and what doesn’t work, and what needs to be done in a training environment — as opposed to a real world environment — is priceless.”

Eckerdt appreciated the Powell school district’s willingness to let police use the building, equipment provided by the fire department and all the participation from local law enforcement agencies.

“It was just good to have that many officers from that many jurisdictions in one place at one time, training and working together,” Eckerdt said.

“We’re fortunate to have excellent inter-agency cooperation for training such as this,” said Park County Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Patterson in a statement. “Because we train together, residents can be assured that local law enforcement are better prepared to respond should the need ever arise.”

Park County Sheriff Scott Steward also highlighted the importance of training for an active-shooter situation, where an individual tries to kill people in a confined, populated area.

“Active shooters have caused a paradigm shift in law enforcement training and tactics,” Steward said in a statement. “This is because the victims are not necessarily expected to escape or even survive these situations. Therefore, law enforcement must employ a more aggressive response strategy.”

Eckerdt said all of the police department’s officers participated in the training, which required some long days for the officers covering on patrol.

“But it’s important,” he said.

6 comments

  • Comment Link March 27, 2014 5:37 pm posted by Cowboy Crittic

    This is what a Police State looks like under a tyrannical government.

  • Comment Link March 29, 2014 5:44 am posted by Steve Moseley

    What it looks like to me is a team of professionals practicing how to save Cowboy Critic's (sorry, the limit is one t in critic) kids or grandkids, and possibly get themselves killed for their trouble, should the next homicidal maniac choose Park County's children for the inevitable massacre to come.

  • Comment Link March 31, 2014 12:38 pm posted by Dustin Cole

    If they didn’t take this opportunity they would be blamed for not training enough. So they take the opportunity and are criticized for looking like a tyrannical organization. We cannot ignore what they do because we as citizens need to remind them of the constitution they must follow. However, they are citizens also and want the same for their families.
    “We who enforce the law must not merely obey it. We have an obligation to set a moral example, which those whom we protect can follow.” Louis Freeh

  • Comment Link March 31, 2014 3:57 pm posted by Deb Jacobs

    Steve Moseley - we miss you!!!

  • Comment Link April 01, 2014 1:11 pm posted by Steve Moseley

    Ditto, Deb.

  • Comment Link April 08, 2014 7:52 am posted by Richard Garlish

    As an educator, I couldn't be in more agreement with the officers' dedication to training. I would far rather see someone who knows what he/she is doing coming down the hall vs the alternative proposed by some state legislators which was to arm teachers and guardians. "Limit one "t" to critic" ......... Priceless!

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