When shots are fired in a school, workplace or other setting with multiple people, getting police officers on the scene quickly who know how to handle the situation is key.
Training held for local and regional law enforcement agencies this week at Curtin Middle School will help first-responding officers do just that, according to instructors from the National Tactical Officers Association.
Officers from several departments, including Williamsport, Old Lycoming Township, South Williamsport, Muncy, Montoursville and beyond took part in an "active shooter" training program at the school for three days beginning Tuesday that helps prepare them for a variety of situations where people are threatened or shot by someone wielding a weapon.
Don Alwes, an NTOA instructor and police officer in Wilmore, Ky., said the lessons learned can be used by police in other situations where someone with a weapon has access to several potential victims.
"The hardest part is making very important decisions very quickly," he said while preparing mock victims and police entry teams in the hallways of the school Thursday.
Officers were armed with simulation Glock pistols that fired rounds of colored soap that burst upon impact. Protective gear was necessary, as evidenced by some officers who sported welts from being hit.
Twice during an exercise while an officer acting as a school resource officer was holding a shooter at gunpoint, the police entry team mistakingly shot him.
While that happens frequently in training, Alwes said it never has happened in a real situation.
"Many times we (police) get to a situation and the good guy has the gun," he said, explaining that a teacher, student or other person disarmed the shooter.
"If we're going to have a mistake, I love it when it can happen in training," he said.
Officers are taught to move in quickly to diffuse the potential violence before it escalates. Previous training had police waiting until four officers arrived on the scene to make entry.
"Historically, the story has been that officers don't get to the scene on time. This is to speed the process up a little," Alwes said.
He added that if the perpetrator is confronted early enough, no one else gets hurt.
The course was developed in 2001 in response to the Columbine, Colo. shootings as an alternative to waiting for a tactical unit - or SWAT team - to be deployed to an incident.
"We hope we never have to put this training into use, but this type of violence can happen anywhere, and our local officers will be better prepared to deal with it," said Lycoming County District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt, one of the sponsors of the training.