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.