After 31 more people died earlier this month in mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, some Americans felt the increasingly familiar anxiety associated with knowing they could be the next victim of such a tragedy.
In Monroe County, police have taken steps to minimize the damage caused by an active shooter and decrease the chances of such an incident occurring locally.
That has mainly been accomplished through training, both of police and members of the community.
Officers throughout the county participate in active shooter drills and training in the option-based 4E model.
The E’s stand for educate, evade, escape and engage.
Local firefighters, ambulance personnel and Monroe County Emergency Management Agency personnel also complete active shooter training.
All those first responders help make up the county’s rescue task force teams, which respond to events like an active shooter.
“I think we’re very prepared,” Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing said, noting his department has special body armor for such situations. “I know we’re prepared with training. I know we’re prepared with equipment.”
Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul agreed with that assessment, saying the preparation will help officers respond if they ever find themselves in an active shooter situation.
“When you’re under stress and you’re in crisis, you need to train and plan, that way you just act and you don’t freeze,” he explained.
The officers are not the only ones trained for an active shooter situation, however, as the various departments also work with businesses, churches, schools and government buildings to ensure the people there know what to do.
Sometimes, that training takes the form of a department’s 4E instructors teaching that concept to community members.
It can also mean a department like the CPD or Waterloo Police Department helping a business develop a crisis plan.
“Having a plan in place could increase your chance of survival,” WPD Deputy Police Chief Jeff Prosise said.
Each department is available to train entities within its jurisdiction. They can also help develop crisis plans.
Schools represent particular areas of emphasis for law enforcement, with each department conducting intruder drills annually or biannually in their respective jurisdictions.
“Each time we conduct the training we look at the physical environment of the specific location, to assess all of the possibilities for handling an active shooter situation,” Prosise said, noting Waterloo High School last hosted active shooter training.
“So, not only does the participant improve their preparedness, it gives the officer an opportunity to familiarize themselves with building layout as well.”
The CPD also has a school resource officer in the Columbia school district, something the MCSD is hoping to provide to the Waterloo school district in the future.
Additionally, there is a threat assessment team in the Columbia school district that includes staff, teachers, administrators, the SRO and counselors. And the MCSD has blueprints of all schools in its vehicles in case deputies need them.
Rohlfing said all that training and preparation is necessary because a mass shooting can happen anywhere, anytime.
“The idea of ‘it will never happen here,’ all I can say is Jared Franke,” Rohlfing said, referring to the Columbia man who threatened to shoot up Columbia High School. “I’m not saying he was going to go shoot up a school, but he had a map. He had a plan. And that’s what a lot of these other people were doing.”
To further enhance safety, police said they also need the public’s help.
“‘See something, say something,’ that is everybody’s responsibility, whether that’s a business, a resident, a school, a church or whatever that might be,” Paul said, referring to the slogan that encourages citizens to alert law enforcement of suspicious behavior or people.
“A lot of these younger people that commit these heinous crimes, they have shown and done certain things, put things on social media and it’s all warning signs,” Rohlfing added. “We need to be contacted.”
Law enforcement officials also offered tips for citizens in case they ever find themselves in an active shooter situation.
Paul said knowing the 4E’s and how to apply them would prove beneficial.
“All those things will work no matter where you’re at,” he said.
Prosise had a different tip.
“We should always be aware of our surroundings and trust your instincts,” Prosise said.
“If you go somewhere, know where the exits are so if something does happen you don’t have to look around for them,” Valmeyer Police Chief Tom Andres agreed. “It’s sad that we’re in a situation like that, but that’s the way it is.”
Rohlflng took a similar approach as Prosise and Andres, encouraging citizens to play through scenarios in their mind when they are out.
Another way Rohlfing offered to help is by hosting an event in the future for all county residents with national speaker Phil Chalmers to train them on what to do in these situations and how parents can monitor their children’s online activity, which Rohlfing said is critical.