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Drill Offers Police Stress of Real Active Shooter Scenario

An active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area, and recent active shooter incidents have underscored the need for a coordinated response.

shooters (2)
(TNS) — The hallways and classrooms were empty in Conrad Weiser Middle School, but the building wasn't always quiet.

On Thursday, specifically, there were intermittent eruptions of what sounded like gunfire as well as yelling, screaming.

The school just outside of Robesonia in Heidelberg Township was the setting for live active-shooter drills hosted by South Heidelberg Township in cooperation with the Conrad Weiser School District.

South Heidelberg has hosted the training for law enforcement agencies in the county for five years, Police Chief Leon J. Grim said, so the exercises were not in response to the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24. Police said the 18-year-old shooter entered that school through an unlocked door and killed 19 students and two teachers, wounding 17 others.

South Heidelberg police department's coverage area includes the high school and middle school. One of the officers serves as the school district resource officer.

If there were a critical incident such as an active shooter at a school or business, Grim said, South Heidelberg police would get help from numerous surrounding police departments. That's why it is critical to have as many officers as possible from nearby departments become familiar with one another and the school buildings.

"We all know in the first-responder community that if something happens in a school, a business or shopping center, we're going to get help from multiple people," Grim said.

According to the FBI, an active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area, and recent active shooter incidents have underscored the need for a coordinated response by law enforcement and others to save lives.

A total of 16 officers from five police departments — South Heidelberg, Lower Heidelberg, Cumru and Caernarvon townships and Sinking Spring — along with deputies from the Berks County sheriff's office took part in the two-day training, which began Wednesday with classroom instruction of various critical scenarios.

More than two dozen students and a number of adults also took part as role players.

Grim said he appreciates district officials allowing use of their buildings and recruiting from among its students and staff for those who role-play as victims and bad guys to add realism to the drills.

"It really helps the officers kind of get the real-world view of how things would be in a crisis," he said.

South Heidelberg Cpl. Kyle Patton, who led the training, said the live drills evoke similar physiological and psychological effects as they would in an actual mass shooting, even though participants know in advance it's a training exercise.

They learn during post-drill review how their body and mind reacts in an extremely stressful incident — tunnel vision, increased heart rate, temporary loss of hearing, among others — so they're better prepared to manage symptoms in an actual critical stress incident.

Officers are reminded to make sure they don't hold their breath, which would cause a loss of oxygen to their brain and reduced clarity.

"At the end of the scenario, where they have to end the threat and make a radio transmission, they find out in a post-shooting review that they were completely out of breath when they first tried to speak," Patton said.

Dr. Stephen V. Burnham, school district assistant superintendent, was part of the training.

The Weiser schools conduct drills throughout the school year to prepare students and staff for what to do in emergencies such as fires and intruders, but the summertime drill opened his eyes by its portrayal of the noise and confusion accompanying the scenarios.

He mentioned a drill that began with a dozen students running out of the building, screaming.

"After today I really have complete admiration for law enforcement because of their dedication and devotion in a situation like this," he said. "They're willing to give up their life to protect students."

©2022 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.