Area agencies host mass violence training workshop




As part of an effort to prevent and prepare for incidents of mass violence, the Garden City Police Department, St. Catherine Hospital and USD 457 hosted training provided by the National Tactical Officers Association, helping equip the hospital, USD 457 schools, businesses and civic organizations for such scenarios.

On Monday and Tuesday at the Finnup Center, Don Alwes, NTOA instructor, covered such topics as threat analysis, security systems, procedures for responding to incidents of mass violence, emergency plan development and assessment, and law enforcement response issues.

Nearly 50 people, including representatives from a meat-processing facility, major local retailers, civic organizations, Garden City Community College and USD 457 attended the training, along with local law enforcement officials.

"I'm very pleased with the turnout and the organizations and agencies represented here. I think it speaks volumes about our community that the class is full," GCPD Capt. Dave Smith said. "We've got the policy makers that are here, which is good."

Through NTOA, Alwes, who also trains law enforcement and military personnel, said the main emphasis of the two-day training was to get people talking.

"The most important part about this is starting the conversations in their groups. Long after I leave, they will be problem-solving," Alwes said.

Monday's training included a historical overview of school and workplace violence, with an emphasis on recent incidents and the nature of threats, emphasizing available methods and weapons that any individual or group could use to perpetrate acts of mass violence.

Tuesday's class covered individual warning signs, work environment warning signs, maximum credible threats, security measures and emergency plans already in place at the various facilities.

Alwes shared several warning signs to look for in an individual to prevent mass violence.

"Trust me, folks — none of these by themselves are an indicator. It's when you see a bunch of them popping up that you pay attention," he said.

Examples of warning signs for individuals include use of alcohol and/or drugs, constant fighting with coworkers or other students, past convictions for violent crimes, increasing belligerence, threats of violence against others, hypersensitivity to criticism, fascination with or acquisition of weapons, outbursts of anger, extreme disorganization, noticeable changes in behavior and homicidal or suicidal comments.

He also shared warning signs in the work environment such as frustration with job tasks, downsizing or reorganization, labor disputes, poor management styles, lack of counseling, and high injury rates for employees.

In touching on security measures, Alwes asked those attending what the most realistic threat is to each of their institutions.

"Most of us have identified a gun or a bomb as the most realistic threat," Alwes said. "When we talk about security measures, here is what we want you to ask yourself: Does your security stop what you're worried about? Is the security at your school, your hospital, your business — is it designed to stop what you're concerned with?"

Roy Cessna, public information officer for USD 457, said representatives from each of the district's schools attended the training.

"We're always looking at ways to stay on top of maintaining a safe school environment," Cessna said. "We are pleased that law enforcement could bring that training to the community, not only for schools, but also community agencies and businesses."

Shawna Deal, community relations coordinator at St. Catherine Hospital, was also at the training, along with Ashley Rich, emergency department manager, and Roger Smith, facilities. Deal said the hospital meets monthly to develop a policy for handling active threats and that Alwes reinforced much of what they already knew, while providing a lot of new information that they could implement into their policy.

Capt. Smith said the police department has been actively involved in preparing for what is commonly referred to as the "active shooter" scenario since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.

"The active shooter gives the (impression) that there has to be a gun involved, and it doesn't. It could be a vehicle, it could be equipment, it could be a knife, it could be an IED — anything that can be used as a weapon," Smith said, adding that a better description is active threat. An IED is an improvised explosive device.

Smith said that several organizations in the community have crisis plans in place.

"(The district) involves us in the development of their crisis plans, and we've been involved with some businesses in town that have called us to help develop or evaluate, (or) critique their crisis plans," Smith said. "Our agency needs to be more involved with other businesses and organizations in the community to assist with their plans. We're not perfect. We're not going to write their plans for them, but we can certainly give our input about ... the awareness, in terms of how we are going to respond (in a situation involving violence), so that they can have a better plan to prepare their employees to make a safer work environment."

Alwes said he was extremely impressed with the GCPD, in terms of its preparation and training for active shooter or active threat scenarios.

"They're really head and shoulders above a lot of other places (I've been to), he said.

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