By Linda Lockhart
Question: When would the sight of nearly a dozen law enforcement vehicles and the sound of gunfire not signal trouble?
Answer: When the cars are assembled in Ohio University-Southern's parking lot, the sound can be attributed paintball guns and preparedness training is under way for peace officers and university staff members.
This Monday through Wednesday, officers from around the region learned and practiced techniques in simulated situations in which an active threat -- in this case a shooter -- was in progress. The simulations involved about 100 officers from Lawrence County (home of the Southern campus) and surrounding areas in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.
A classroom session today extended the training to about 25 campus administrators, faculty and staff from the Southern campus as well as emergency medical responders and fire department personnel. Their involvement was aimed at helping them understand how law enforcement would respond in a critical incident involving a direct threat.
"Not only does this training exercise benefit local law enforcement, but it benefits the campus by providing insight into the latest threat reduction techniques," said Bill Willan, interim dean of the Southern campus. Willan said more than 150 people from the Southern campus, other Ohio University campuses and the community were expected to attend today's session.
The officer training and classroom session help ensure that individuals from multiple agencies are operating under the same direction and understanding in case of a threat situation.
"In lieu of recent events over several years, we want to ensure police have proper response," said Sgt. Matt Cleaveland, a member of the Ohio State Highway Patrol Special Response Team that conducted the training. "You don't typically train peace officers to run toward gunfire, so this approach is going against what they've learned. That's why it's important to run this type of training."
During the drills, teams of four officers outfitted in protective headgear and brandishing firearms loaded with paint-filled ammunition searched the halls and rooms of the Dingus Technology Center to find the threat. A shooter -- and sometimes more than one -- might pop out of a room and take aim at the officers or might be holding a hostage at gunpoint in an unknown room. The officers learned how to work as a team and quickly find and address the threat.
The Ironton Police Department requested that the Special Response Team conduct the training, which is provided by the Ohio Highway Patrol at no cost to participating agencies.
"The goal," Willan said, "is to be as prepared as possible for an event that we all hope will never happen."