Simulations designed to prompt an effective response to a threat at schools around this region are regular occurrences, and the police chief at East Tennessee State University is glad of that.
In fact, there was one such training exercise at his school Tuesday.
The threat of an “active shooter” was once again made very real with the massacre of 13 people at the Navy Yard in Washington on Monday.
Tuesday was the first day of a two-day training exercise for the ETSU public safety office and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center police force for the purposes of honing responses in the event of an active shooter event like the one at the Navy Yard.
“We’re really happy to have them (the VA police) aboard, because there’s a possibility we could need to work with them on a scenario, and hopefully we never will but it’s always good to know we’re on the same page,” said Jack Cotrel, ETSU public safety chief.
Officers from both police forces trained in the halls of University School, a building on the ETSU campus where K-12 classes are held. Students are currently on break, making for a perfect location to hold a training exercise for law enforcement.
Officers were cautiously winding down dimly lit hallways, creaking open doors with plastic pellet guns drawn and constantly scanning the environment for signs of a threat.
The ETSU police force has never had to deal with a situation like the Navy Yard shootings, which Cotrel called a tragedy, but training for such an event must continue.
These kinds of training exercises have been held locally since the shooting rampage at Columbine High School in April 1999, Cotrel said.
“We just want to try to prepare our officers for the worst,” he said. “Our whole philosophy is, you know, we will react, we will go in, we will remove the threat as quickly as possible whether there is one officer available, two, three. However many’s available. We will not wait to remove a threat.”
Before the massacre at Columbine, local police forces typically contained the threat and waited for a SWAT team to arrive, Cotrel said.
“You just can’t do that anymore,” he said. “Columbine really changed the complexion of how law enforcement reacts to these situations.”
Exercises like this help each force know what is happening and not be lost, Cotrel said, adding that buildings like the one for University School are ideal for training.
“Today, we’re really happy to have this facility,” he said. “It’s an ideal facility.”