Being prepared for the unthinkable

Published 4:47 pm Monday, October 29, 2018

Last week, I spent approximately half an hour at Whitesville Road Elementary School, where the LaGrange Police Department trained on how to handle an active shooter event.

The LPD has been training on how to handle active shooter events for years, but how the police handle those situations has evolved immensely over time. The training didn’t focus completely on responding to school shootings, but as a visitor it was hard not to put the two together.

I was given a yellow vest and earplugs so that I could get close and take pictures as officers walked down the hallway, heard the gunshots and responded to the shooter.

The LPD worked in teams of one and two because if an active threat event occurred at a local middle or high school, the school resource officer at that building would become a team of one.

Meaning, a school resource officer would assess the threat, then find his or her way to the suspect by themselves without waiting for backup to arrive.

This represents a major change in the thinking from the way these events were handled years ago.

The LPD has been training with the “team of one” mentality for several years now, realizing that most active shooter events last only a few minutes, while it could take hours for a SWAT team to be assembled.

In another change, the LPD worked with the LaGrange Fire Department this year. Instead of waiting for an entire building to be cleared — a time-consuming process – police will now clear off a portion of the school so that medical personnel can safely get in and help victims. 

During the training, the sound of bullets rang out through the hallway and officers received radio communication informing them shots had been fired. There was a lot of information relayed — some useful, others parts less important — as they investigated the threat.

The screams of “victims” could also be heard as officers made their way through the building, toward the chaos. Once they found the classroom, they had to identify the suspect, disarm or engage that person and identify any wounded victims. All of this work takes place in approximately five seconds.

Another officer was behind them, telling them to “breathe” and giving other advice.

LPD supervisors also practiced how they would handle an active-shooter event. Outside of actually stopping the threat, there are many other things to think about.

Other law enforcement agencies will want to help out, the media will be looking for information, parents will want to know their children are safe — there’s a lot to think about. The LPD practiced all of it.

To be honest, the entire environment — just the 15 minutes or so I was in the classroom — was enough for me, and that’s in a controlled environment where I was only a spectator.

It’s really difficult to imagine anything like that happening locally, but I’m sure the people in Parkland, Florida and other communities impacted by an event like this would have said the same thing, too.

The hope is that nothing like that ever occurs in Troup County, but residents should feel good knowing that if it does, the LaGrange Police Department is prepared — at least as much as it possibly can be.