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An ounce of prevention
OUPD, local officers prepare for the worst in active shooter training 

July 17, 2007
By George Mauzy

Most Athens area law enforcement agencies, including almost all members of the Ohio University Police Department, are taking part in this week's Ohio State Highway Patrol exercise offering training in dealing with an active shooter situation. Here, Communications and Marketing staffer George Mauzy offers an account of his experience as a volunteer for the exercise.
Don't shoot. I'm an innocent bystander!

That was my primary thought as I participated in Monday's Ohio State Highway Patrol Special Response Team training session for dealing with an active shooter situation at Ohio University's former Baker University Center.

As a staff member in University Communications and Marketing, I volunteered to play the role of a civilian during the first official active shooter training session held at the university and write a story about it. My assignment: give a firsthand account of what it is like to participate in this intense, realistic form of law enforcement training. 

In a voicemail left the day my commitment was official, an officer from the Ohio University Police Department called to thank me for volunteering and find out which of the four, four-hour sessions I would be attending. At the end of the message, he advised me to wear blue jeans and a heavy sweatshirt to soften the blow of the bullets in case I was shot during the exercises. Excuse me!?!?

George Mauzy photo by Rick FaticaIn zero to 60 seconds, I went from enjoying a relaxing lunch to being informed I could be shot in the sultry confines of old Baker. (Luckily, as I later learned, the "bullets" are a form of paintball-like ammunition, but they pack a sting nonetheless.) After careful deliberation, I chose the first session Monday morning. I had been told I stood a fair chance of being in the line of fire, so I might as well get it over with.

The training, conducted by the Ohio State Highway Patrol Special Response Team, began at 8 a.m. sharp and was informative from the start. Sgt. Mike Paris, a team leader who drove in from the Cleveland area that morning, started the training session with a presentation about the various two-, four- and six-man formations that the 10 local law enforcement officers in my session would be using during the exercises. 

Officers learned about several strategies and formations they would later use to secure rooms and hallways where active shooters might loom. Paris told the officers this type of training would prepare them to find the shooter and effectively deal with the situation. 

"You are not going in the building to negotiate," he emphasized.

Until recently, Paris said, law enforcement officers were taught to secure the perimeter of the building during such situations and wait for the closest SWAT-like team to arrive. Because that strategy could result in loss of life inside the building, more and more police units have abandoned the approach.  Instead, officers are being trained to enter the building in small teams as soon as they arrive at the scene. 

Paris said the patrol's Special Response Team has offered this type of training since 1999, but demand has increased since the April tragedy at Virginia Tech that left 33 dead and 25 wounded. 

Photos by Rick Fatica"Research shows that less than 3 percent of active shooter situations result in gunfire between law enforcement and the shooter," Paris told officers. "Typically, shooters kill themselves or surrender when the police arrive. However, today's training is for that 3 percent because we have to be ready if the situation occurs. You will likely not have time to wait on a SWAT team to arrive."

After Paris' presentation, officers spent 45 minutes practicing formations and techniques in preparation for the role-playing exercises they would experience next.

At last, it was GO TIME! My adrenalin rose as I thought about the ammunition bouncing off my blue jeans or green and yellow jacket. One of the training officers told me welts and pain from the gunshots sometimes last up to two weeks; others showed me their battle scars from previous training exercises. 

As my palms sweated and my heart raced, I knew I had to play it cool. Trainers instructed my six fellow "innocent civilians" and me to cause a commotion and tempt the officers to shoot us accidentally. We tested them by unexpectedly bursting out of rooms, making noise and peeking around corners that officers were scanning for active shooters. 

Photos by Rick FaticaGuns blasted and bullet casings bounced across the worn carpet of old Baker as officers and "gunmen" engaged in battle again and again.

My near-death experience behind me, I quickly realized the importance of this type of training. These officers are learning to take effective, proactive steps to protect innocent people like me in the event of a future active shooter incident. I'll remember their fine work during the training exercises as I frequent buildings on the Ohio University campus and in the Athens area. And, to the credit of all of the officers involved, I didn't get shot.

Afterward, OUPD officer Tim Woodyard shared his perspective: "The training was excellent. I learned new techniques, new footwork, collaborated with other law enforcement agencies and received confirmation from the professionals who do this for a living."

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Published: Jul 20, 2006 3:50:00 PM
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