In the wake of the recent mass shooting that claimed 18 lives and injured 13 in Lewiston, Maine, law enforcement and emergency response personnel from Southern Minnesota came together for an intensive day of training aimed at improving their response to such scenarios.
The all-day training session took place at Southland Public Schools and focused on a comprehensive three-pronged approach: stopping the killing, preventing further casualties and initiating the healing process, as explained by Freeborn County Emergency Management Director Rich Hall.
Hall, who also served as the public information officer for the event, described the training strategy.
“By stopping the killing, law enforcement goes in and stops the threat. Once that threat is eliminated, what they feel is the threat is eliminated, we know we no longer have that golden hour. What we want to do then is secure the area with law enforcement and then bring our rescue teams in to grab the victims that are alive yet, bring them out to a casualty collection point where the medics can take care of them and get them going.”
Originally planned for February 2020 but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the training, hosted by the Mower County Sheriff’s Office, was devoted to the concept of forming an incident response centered around a unified command.
According to officials, this training approach ensures that responding agencies work together seamlessly to respond to crises.
Hall stressed the importance of immediate response, pointing to the evolution in tactics since the Columbine school shooting in 1999, when specialized SWAT teams were required to enter a scene.
Today, law enforcement is trained to enter immediately to eliminate the threat, a strategy aimed at saving lives as quickly as possible.
Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik affirmed this change, stating: “We now know we’re getting in that door. We’re going to save people, and you’re not going to wait. It’s a learning process, and you’re taking what you can from each incident.”
Immediate response also includes getting emergency responders into the affected area as soon as possible to provide medical care to the injured, which requires having a unified command to organize the response.
“We do that by bringing them in with law enforcement protecting them,” Hall explained. “They are checking pulses, checking the bleeding, grabbing them and getting them out of there. They aren’t doing any real work right there other than a quick assessment to get them to a casualty collection point where they are safe in a secure environment, and they can start working on them.”
The morning of Saturday’s training involved classroom instruction, while the afternoon was dedicated to scenario-based drills designed to test the cohesiveness of the responding teams.
Instructors anticipated mistakes during these drills, as the primary goal was to identify and correct such errors to ensure preparedness for real-life situations.
Sheriff Sandvik said that the training heavily emphasized teamwork.
“It’s very, very important because when these types of things occur, people come from all over, so we have people from far and wide here today. It gives us that familiarity, and everybody understands they are on the same page.”
Although Saturday’s training primarily focused on active shooter situations, Sheriff Sandvik pointed out its broader applications, such as responding to natural disasters and accidents involving multiple agencies.
For instance, the sheriff cited the Taopi tornado in 2022 and a recent incident involving a vehicle striking an Amish family’s buggy in late September, where multiple agencies from the incident’s area and beyond responded.
“It doesn’t have to be a mass assault incident,” Sheriff Sandvik concluded. “It can be a natural disaster. Knowing how to work together is vitally important.”