Training for hostile events is eye opener for local agencies
“Help me,” several voices screamed out of the dark, smoke-filled room. A fire alarm blared loudly, making it difficult to hear. Officers from multiple agencies ran down the hallway to the room, weapons held ready. They opened the door and entered the chaos, communicating by shouting to each other because it was too loud to hear radios over the alarm. There were obstacles strewn about and several chairs overturned in the room. The screaming voices were attached to dark shadows in the room and the officers used flashlights to locate the victims after they made sure the bad guy was no longer a threat. A shooter dressed in black lay motionless on the floor.
The victims were escorted or dragged out of the room by teams of police officers, fire and emergency medical services personnel, depending on the severity of their injuries. After the last victim was taken out, the participants met for a debriefing.
The event described above was part of a “3 ECHO” training in Cloquet Saturday, a joint training for law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel in preparation for a coordinated response to a hostile event aimed at hurting lots of people, such as a shooting in a school, mall or nightclub. The training is a three-phase approach to “enter, evaluate and evacuate” as efficiently as possible in a hostile situation.
Friday was classroom time for participants at Community Memorial Hospital to prepare for Saturday’s intense all-day hands-on training at the Tribal Center on the Fond du Lac Reservation. A group of instructors met with 41 students from different agencies to look at and discuss hostile events that have unfolded around the country in the last several years, up to the St. Cloud mall incident in Minnesota and the Washington shooter the day before the class.
They talked about what worked, what didn't work at the different hostile events, and why — as well as what could have happened differently to increase the odds of ending the incident faster, or how to get help to the victims sooner.
The 3 ECHO training gives the most modern, up-to-date approaches to help deal with the latest threats and save more lives, according to John Ehret, a 3 ECHO instructor.
There were about 20 role players at Saturday’s event playing the parts of victims or the bad guy/shooter. Props such as different types of pipe bombs and explosive devices were used, including one used by the military. Some were obvious with fuses hanging from them, while others could go unnoticed by a casual untrained observer.
Although the various law enforcement agencies, firefighters and emergency medical providers already participate in training specific for their individual departments, this was the first training for the departments to work together in the region (there have been other similar training events in Duluth and Grand Marais).
The focus was on coordinating access to the building and getting in and removing people as efficiently as possible.
“We train for this on our own all of the time,” said Lieutenant Mike Diver of the Fond du Lac Police Department. “This is an eyeopener on what needs to be done. In the past we would go to a scene and lock down the outside until we had SWAT come there, which could be anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours. Then the training changed and we started training where law enforcement would go in to stop the threat and then it changed to law enforcement was pulling victims out and waiting for the EMS or ambulance services. Now we are working together and going in at the same time. It’s speeding up the time we are getting victims out faster and to an ambulance.”
Law enforcement trains for an active-shooter event, firefighters train for rescue and mass casualty and EMS train for large mass casualty and trauma incidents on a regular basis.
The event allowed the departments to have an “efficient look at the incident through multiple lenses,” Ehret said, adding that the goal of the training is to have victims out and on the way to the hospital within 30 minutes.
Each department has been trained over the years to know what to do in case of a hostile event in the area, but they were not aware of other departments’ training details or how to work efficiently together.
“We combined into a more seamless response so we can effect rescues quicker and neutralize the threat quicker and everybody is on the same page, so the effort goes more smoothly,” said Jesse Buhs, a battalion chief at Cloquet Area Fire District.
With the new training, the different agencies can see the others’ specific tasks and challenges, so they have a better idea on how to work together more effectively in case of a hostile event in the area.
Students came from Cloquet and Fond du Lac police departments, the Carlton County Sheriff's Office, Virginia, Moose Lake, the 148th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard in Duluth, and even one from Washington state to take advantage of the training.
“The training helps us understand what they are doing so we can work our goals and objectives into that plan and vice versa,” Buhs said. “Overall it's a better understanding so we can all work together to have a better outcome. Now we can work together more fluidly.”
All aspects of a scenario were covered Saturday, from the first arriving officer through getting the last victim to the hospital, and everything in between. After each scenario was completed, the group involved met for a debriefing. The instructors asked the participants how they thought they did and what could have been done differently. Sometimes there was confusion about the roles. Once the questions were answered, the participants seemed better prepared to act efficiently in a real-life hostile situation.
Even seemingly small details such as parking can make a difference.
Diver described an incident where the police department went to a scene and needed to call an ambulance for victims. All of the police cars were parked in a group in the front and the ambulance couldn't get through the cars. It was something that never occurred to the officers to think about in advance until that point.
The training helps teach the individual departments to think of each other’s needs, such as ambulance and fire trucks needing to be able to get through, Buhs said, not only in the nice weather, but when there are snowbanks piled high in the winter and parking is tighter.
“We have our training, they have theirs. It’s putting it all together,” Diver said. “They come in and say we need to slow something down, or move a vehicle from there.”
The 3 ECHO training is complex and intense as well as expensive, at $25,000 for the two-day event. A federal grant paid for about half of the training, while Sappi and the Mdewakanton Sioux Community donated $2,000 and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa donated $8,000 and the use of the building. “It’s phenomenal what we have learned at today's event,” Diver said.