Shots rang out down the hallways of Rogers Middle School, but I couldn’t look up to see where they were coming from: I was dead.
As a volunteer with the Pearland Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association (PCPAAA), I had the unique opportunity to participate in Active Threat Integrated Response Course (ATIRC) training, which brings together first responders to learn to quickly enter into harm’s way to neutralize a shooter and get the wounded out to higher levels of care during Active Shooter Events (ASE).
ASEs are situations like Columbine and the recent movie theater shootings in Lafayette, LA in which one or more people armed with weapons threaten and/or kill innocent victims, usually in highly populated areas.
The training was provided to members of the Pearland Police and Fire/EMS Departments at no cost to the City by The Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University (ALERRT), which is 100% grant funded.
After some instruction and three “pat downs” to make sure we had no weapons at 8am, we were instructed to go to a room where ALERRT instructors waited to give us realistic-looking wounds and to give us direction as to our acting.
Some of us lost legs, some were disembowled, several had head wounds (including me, which is what “killed” me) and one lost the bottom part of his jaw. The lucky ones were just grazed or unharmed altogether.
Volunteers performed in four scenarios, each lasting between 45 – 90 minutes. ALERRT instructors would stage each scenario while officers and EMS/fire personnel waited off-site. After everything was set, an instructor would broadcast a “shots fired” alert across the radio channel they were using. Patrol cars, ambulances and fire trucks arrived at the scene and the intense coordination inside began.
“Integration between Fire and Police Departments in a critical incident is essential for a successful outcome,” said Pearland Police Lt. Kevin Nichols, who is also an adjunct instructor for ALERRT. “This type of innovative training will help prepare the first responders of this city to overcome the challenges that such integration presents. It was also a great opportunity to build rapport and camaraderie between the two agencies.”
Indeed, it was all about teamwork. All “police vs. fire” jokes were set aside as the participants concentrated on the task at hand. ALERRT instructors went above and beyond to make everything as realistic as possible. Volunteers screamed in terror, moaned in pain and laid motionless, no matter what happened, if they were “dead.”
As I mentioned before, I got “shot in the head,” so I had to lay, eyes transfixed and breathing as shallowly as possible, on the floor of a classroom with my head resting on a resin blood pool, for about 35 minutes. Because I was a casualty and nothing could be done for me, I was one of the last volunteers removed from the scene. EMS came by to check my pulse to make sure I was indeed expired. Eventually Officer Oscar Pena bent over me, flung me over his shoulder and deposited me (albeit gently) into a room where the victims were being treated according to the seriousness of their injuries. (Sorry for the back ache, Officer Pena!)
Some volunteers were put in “the box” (ambulance) and taken away. Some had to have emergency tracheotomies (on a prop throat…no worries!). Some had the task of wailing for an expired “loved one.”
Because of the seriousness of these exercises, there was a lot of “barking” going on from police and EMS. Following their directions was paramount to getting everyone treated and extracted in the fastest time possible.
During the next scenario, I sat out as a volunteer and put my photographer hat on.
I stood to the side, out of the way, as I heard the shots fired in a different hallway (blanks were used). The sound reverberated around the building, and the school setting made it quite alarming, even though I knew there was no real danger.
Within minutes, squad cars arrived at the school, some driving across the grass to get into position. Tactical teams surrounded the school with pre-planned precision. Ambulances and fire trucks came soon after, deviating from the “usual” hang-back-and-see-if-they-need-us stance. Fire and EMS personnel were quick to be briefed and followed the officers’ leads.
Some officers had to render “battlefield medicine” aid on the scene to victims who would not survive if they waited. Some EMS personnel had to think outside the box and render advanced first aid until the victim was able to be extracted.
In one scenario, an officer was shot in the leg. He applied a tourniquet to himself and got up to continue helping his fellow first responders. This was actually the first time that ALERRT had ever used an “officer down” in any scenario. The instructors said that the police officers did, “Exactly what they were
supposed to do. If your buddy is shot and there’s still killing going on, you have to leave him.”
The “bad guys” were either arrested or killed in each scenario fairly quickly, freeing up personnel to tend to the victims.
“It’s wonderful to see the Pearland Emergency Responder Communities all come together to train,” said Terry Nichols, a retired San Marcos police officer, one of the founders of ALERRT and their Curriculum Director. “It speaks volumes about what they’re trying to achieve organizationally as a City to prepare for one of these catastrophic events.”
In the end, while we all hope that Pearland never has to deal with an ASE, I know that I, as a citizen, feel much more optimistic about a good outcome if it should ever happen.
For more information about ALERRT, visit http://www.alerrt.org.