Taking down the threat

Active shooter training takes teamwork and focus

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS “Shots fired!” is certainly a terrifying thing to hear crackle over a radio, but Marshalltown and Marshall County law enforcement were the first ones on-scene after the simulated 911 call went out.

A group of officers moves methodically down a dimly-lit hallway, guns drawn, when two loud BANGs ring through the building. “Shots fired,” one says calmly into the radio. They move toward the sound.

That’s what it was like for law enforcement officers as they moved through the hallways of Marshalltown Community College for a mass causality training Wednesday afternoon. Along with firefighters, emergency responders and others, the training tested teamwork and communication.

“Overall, I thought everybody did a really good job,” said Marshalltown Police Lt. Kiel Stevenson during a debrief session after the training had concluded. The event took hundreds of volunteers and officials to complete. Observers from the emergency and law enforcement entities were spread throughout campus, as were college officials.

The goal of the exercise was to pinpoint potential weaknesses in the response system for a mass casualty event.

“I heard this a couple times: ‘Anybody in here that can walk to me, come over here right now,'” Stevenson said of the officers and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) identifying victims. “It’s a way to do a real quick triage … clear directors, clear talking, I thought people did a really good job of that.”

Immediately after entering the building, officers’ first mission was to find the “shooter” and eliminate the threat. That meant bypassing injured “victims” as they cried for help.

After officers swept through, EMTs arrived and began working to help and remove the injured.

The “victims” were taken to medical command centers nearby.

Observers from the college gave a few of their thoughts on how the training went. One said a person was left unaccounted for in the school library after police moved through.

“We’re moving, fast and we’re playing the odds with some of these,” Stevenson said. “Reality is, it is probably going to happen.”

He added the roughly two-hour training was a condensed version of what a real situation would have been like. The rooms would all have been swept several times to ensure everyone got out.

“We still had hours worth of work in this building in a real scenario,” Stevenson said.

Several MCC nursing and emergency medical services students participated in the exercise. College Provost Robin Lilienthal thanked the participants for their work.

“It’s the kind of thing that keeps us awake at night, and to have this partnership and this opportunity, we really, really appreciate it,” she said.