By: R. Michael Brown, Civic Association Communications Director -- As we get ready to kick off a new school year, first responders from the Town of Palm Beach trained this week for an active-shooter situation at Palm Beach Public School. It included police, firefighters, and paramedics.
“Before this week, not every officer was trained for a solo-response to an active-shooter in a school,” said Michael Ogrodnick, Palm Beach Police Training & Community Relations Coordinator. “This is what we are training for this week, along with training to get paramedics inserted into an active scene safely, and protect them, so they can do their work to save lives.”
The training day started with a call going out over police radios of an active shooter at the school with several casualties.
Individual police officers, picked for their turn to go through the training, were on the road doing their regular patrol, and were dispatched to the school. The officer pulled up to the school, put on their tactical gear including their helmet and additional vest from the trunk, grabbed their semi-automatic rifle, and entered the school without hesitating.
The officer is told on their radio that backup is on the way; but, they are to enter the school by themselves and engage the shooter(s).
Time is everything to save as many lives as possible and eliminate the threat.
Officers, pretending to be the active-shooters are dressed in protective gear and hiding in a classroom. They play a recording of gunfire from their hiding place.
Each responding officer doesn’t know where the shooter is or if there are multiple shooters. They also don’t know what scenario has been given to the shooters, give-up or attack the responding officer.
The solo officer quickly works their way towards the sound of the gunfire, using dynamic clearing of each area along the way to keep themselves protected. When they get to the gunfire they engage the shooter(s) first with non-lethal commands and tactics but if necessary, lethal force.
Both the active-shooters and responding officer have non-lethal simulation ammo. Yes, they really shoot at each other with what sounds like real bullets but in fact are simulation rounds that fire a plastic bullet that leaves a colored mark where it hits.
Once the initial threat is engaged, paramedics from Fire and Rescue enter the scene with ballistic vests and helmets, surrounded by police officers with guns drawn. They move to the victims, rescue dummies for training, and pull the victims into another classroom for triage and treatment.
Paramedics (in helmets) are led to the scene surrounded by officers.
They are told the injury on each victim and they perform treatment understanding they are in combat-like conditions.
Each officer goes through multiple scenarios and after each one, SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) instructors from Palm Beach Police debrief the officer. They break down what worked and what didn't and do it again.
After the training exercise for each officer, there are plastic bullets and fragments everywhere. They take this training seriously and it shows from the colored marks on their protective gear. Each mark was from a live round hitting the officer. Chilling when you think about the risk these officers face.
"This is an intense situation," said Training Officer Sgt. Scott Duquette. "We've had heart rate monitors on these officers and they're beating at 140 [beats-per-minute], in survival mode. Our goal is to get their heart rate back down so they can think and act, and stop the threat with the appropriate level of force."
“I think the training this week went well,” said Officer Ogrodnick. “It’s eye-opening for some of our younger officers and reinforces some of the training we’ve given our older officers – and prepared that officer for that solo-response.”
“Now we’re ready,” he said. “The faster we have a well-armed police officer come in and address the shooter, the quicker that event is going to be over. We will continue to train, preparing for the worst and praying that we never have to use what we learned.”