Active shooter training is a grim reality for Northwest Indiana police and hospital personnel - October 3, 2017

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana

Written by Giles Bruce, Bill Dolan and Sarah Reese, Times Staff Writers

Local law enforcement and hospital personnel regularly drill for the grim possibility of active shooters and the mayhem they can cause.

Stephen Scheckel, Munster’s chief of police and law enforcement group leader for the Northwest Indiana District 1 Task Force, said police learned after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 in Colorado that waiting for a SWAT team to respond may cost lives.

“They realized a lot of people became victims because the police were waiting,” he said. Since then, patrol officers have been taught they are to engage an active shooter.

The first officers on scene must weigh their options and coordinate their response. “Then we will start coordinating assets as they arrive on scene, and that takes it off the individual officers’ shoulders, so they can then focus on the threat,” Scheckel said.

It would be up to administrators to consider how many people have been killed or injured and how many more resources are needed, he said.

Efforts are being made to train all law enforcement officers across the country the same, Scheckel said, so any agencies called to assist know what to expect.

Coordinating the Region’s different SWAT teams and other groups is considered during training, he said.

Yearly training

In general, police train at least once a year for such a situation, Scheckel said. The Northwest Indiana District 1 Task Force trains for mass shootings at larger venues, such as the U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, he said.

Individual departments train in schools and other venues within their jurisdiction. “We work with our schools. We train in our schools. We’ve trained in religious institutions to keep our skills honed, so, God forbid, this type of situation happens, you know what to do,” Scheckel said.

Lt. Terry W. Gose, commander of the Indiana State Police Lowell post, said, “We train at least annually in active shooter situations. We practice on how to enter venues, individually or as a group, in locations as far away as Kokomo to get them familiar with areas they would not otherwise know.”

“This isn’t a run around and shoot-em-up (scenario). We try to make it as realistic as possible,” Gose said. The training involves law enforcement officers posing as active shooters and armed with ‘simunition’ guns, which fire low-velocity wax bullets. “It leaves welts when you get hit,” he said.

“These practice tactics of how you clear a scene, how you are going to respond individually or en masse, these are things you have to watch for to make sure you don’t get caught in a friendly fire situation or shoot an innocent person, because it is absolute chaos when something like this breaks out.”

Gose said state police sporadically do tabletop training discussions, including one they will do in coming weeks with all Porter County agencies.

Hammond police Lt. Steven Kellogg said Monday, “We finished our 2017 active shooter training in April at an abandoned school administration building. Our previous active shooter trainings have been held at various Hammond schools, a (then-abandoned) warehouse on Conkey Street and a wing of (Franciscan Health hospital in Hammond).

“Our trained tactics include communication, threat assessment, response to an individual actively armed with a weapon and triaging the scene following the incident while extracting victims from the location. I am confident that our Hammond officers have the tools they need to quickly and effectively respond to an active shooter situation.”

Community members, schools on board, too

Valparaiso schools Superintendent Ric Frataccia said they have begun the first full year of a safe schools response plan that they now have deployed throughout the county.

“We have a dual leadership role with Porter County Sheriff David Reynolds developing the active assailant portion of the plan, which is, ‘run, hide and defend,'” Frataccia said.

“We have been trained to activate the school’s Guard 911 and evacuate the building. If evacuation isn’t possible, hide in a secure location, lock and barricade the door, turn off the lights and get out of sight. The last resort is to defend. That is how we are training our people and the rest of the people in the county using the same procedure and the same vocabulary.”

Lake Criminal Court Senior Judge Samuel Cappas said county police and the courts in Crown Point have been giving active shooter training at the Lake County Government Center since a bomb threat last February prompted the county to purchase the Guard 911 software program that can be activated by court employees to alert all staff to the location of the threat as well as generating 911 calls to federal, state and local law enforcement officers in close proximity.

Emergency medical protocols in place

Scheckel said once police secure a scene, emergency medical workers respond and considerations for a surge in emergency rooms begins. Emergency workers must begin to identify victims and record hospitals to which they’re taken, so their families later can be directed to the correct place, he said.

Northwest Indiana currently has two Level III trauma centers: Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus in Gary and Franciscan Health hospital in Crown Point. The Level III designation means that general surgeons and anesthesiologists are available within 30 minutes.

With that designation, the hospitals have to undergo drills twice a year to practice handling a sudden influx of patients.

“It could be a shooting, it could be an act of terror, it could be an explosion, a bus accident, a plane accident,” said Emery Garwick, emergency preparedness coordinator for Methodist Hospitals. “We take a look at all the different areas: natural disasters, man-made disasters, transportation of hazardous materials. We also have the steel mills that are very close, as well as railroad tracks, the toll road just to the north, the Borman just to the south.”

He said the biggest mass casualty fear would be a weather-related event, like a tornado.

The 16 hospitals in Lake, Porter, LaPorte and Jasper counties are part of an emergency planning committee that plan for large-scale disasters together. The district has two mass casualty trailers that can be turned into mobile hospitals. Methodist Hospitals and Franciscan hospital in Crown Point also do active intruder drills annually.

The nearest Level I trauma centers are Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois, Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois, Stroger Hospital in Chicago and University of Chicago Medical Center (for children only). Level I facilities have surgeons in-house 24-7 and the prompt availability of a variety of specialists, including neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons and critical care doctors.

“If there were the number of victims they suffered (Sunday night) in Las Vegas, we would have to utilize the Illinois side of the border, obviously,” Garwick said. “Unfortunately, when you have 400 victims, that would stress all of our hospitals.”