Public Safety & Homeland Security

Mass Shooting Here? Authorities Have Plans

Training to deal with 'active shooters' has been going on for years in Rock County, but that's just one part of a complicated system that needs to be set up quickly in such cases.

by Frank Schultz, The Janesville Gazette, Wis. / November 7, 2017

(TNS) -- Police got a call Monday from people concerned a Janesville man might become violent.

Officers took it seriously, but they determined the man was no immediate threat, Police Chief Dave Moore said.

The man voluntarily turned over a weapon and agreed to work with the police crisis intervention team, which deals with people suffering from mental illness, Moore said.

Paying attention to such tips could avert a tragedy, but despite all their prevention efforts, officials know a mass shooting could happen here, as it did Sunday in Texas.

So they plan for the worst.

Training to deal with “active shooters” has been going on for years in Rock County, Wis.,but that's just one part of a complicated system that needs to be set up quickly in such cases, law enforcement officials said Monday.

“We've probably practiced for an active shooter as much or more than any department in the state that I know of,” Moore said.

That training has been held in churches, schools and other locations. Surrounding law enforcement agencies are invited to send officers throughout the day-long training sessions, Moore said.

As officers arrive, they go through the simulation as if they were arriving at a shooting scene: They form small teams and clear the building. And they learn a common set of tactics.

But the emergency response is only the beginning. An investigation into a mass shooting can last weeks, as can a community's grief process, Moore said.

People would need security as they congregate to grieve, Moore said.

“So you need to be able to manage it, to make sure everybody's safe," he said.

Another problem is modern communications. Loved ones are likely to hear about a shooting at the speed of social media and rush to the scene, said Cmdr. Troy Knudson of the Rock County Sheriff's Office.

That could tie up roads officers and ambulances need.

Social media are also the solution: Get the word out--directly and through news media--about a place where relatives can reunite with loved ones, and keep that place separate from the crime scene, Knudson said.

Such a place would have chaplains and mental-health professionals available.

As federal law enforcement and neighboring agencies send help, and as regional, national and international news media flood in, things could get messy fast.

The solution is to start building a command structure the moment the first officer arrives at the scene, local officials said.

Plans are to put different officials in charge of different needs: Searches, processing the crime scene, informing the public, logistics, coordinating among the various agencies would be assigned.

An incident in April helped Rock County officials work on their command-and-control measures without loss of anyone's life.

“I think Jakubowski gave us a good idea of what that looks like,” Moore said.

Joseph Jakubowski of Janesville stole firearms from a gun shop and disappeared. Authorities feared he was intent on committing a mass shooting, although that was never proved.

The sheriff's office was in charge. It got help from Janesville police and state and federal law enforcement, among others, in a massive, 10-day manhunt.

A makeshift office was set up in the basement of the Rock County Health Care Center. The FBI brought in one of its huge mobile offices with secret capabilities, the same one it used for the Orlando, Florida, nightclub mass shooting.

The story went national. Knudson became the public information officer for the operation, with Sheriff Bob Spoden and Moore pitching in.

Keeping communications open with the public is seen as key in a federal program that all law enforcement are supposed to abide by: the National Incident Management System, or NIMS.

The sheriff's office uses NIMS, which requires the various operational responsibilities to be divided among officials, Knudson said.

Nationally, NIMS could be improved, Moore said, adding that during the Jakubowski search, opinions varied on the importance of using NIMS. He declined to elaborate.

“What works best is when leaders set egos aside and go to work for what's best for the community,” Moore said.

FBI officials told Moore of incidents elsewhere in which the local sheriff's office and police department wouldn't talk to each other.

“We're fortunate in Rock County. We tend to work well together,” Moore said.

Moore said the community has a role in a mass shooting and in preventing one: Anyone who sees something suspicious should call.

“Let us figure it out,” Moore said.

The same goes after a shooting: Police need residents' tips.

Planning includes making sure officers continue to handle regular duties in the rest of the community and that everyone gets rest, Moore said.

First responders may need support in dealing with the trauma of what a mass shooter does, Moore said, “because that is a terrible tragedy to see firsthand.”

Moore noted his department in recent years has emphasized preventing violence through training officers to deal with people with mental-health problems and in handling domestic-violence investigations--two factors that might have played roles in the Texas tragedy.

Janesville officers also are trained in high-speed chases, something that also figured into the Texas incident. Janesville officers will typically end most chases quickly to keep bystanders safe, but there are times when they are trained to chase and disable vehicles--even to the point of ramming them, Moore said.

©2017 The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.