OCEAN SHORES — A team of officers moves down the hallway in diamond-like formation: crouched in what they called the “Groucho Marx squat” position, weapons drawn, one at the point, one guarding the rear, two flanked to the side and one in the middle.
They come across a wounded victim and immediately “circle the wagons” to deploy a body bag, slip it underneath the dummy body as the two officers on the sides drag it swiftly to safety and the others guard the way out and cover from behind.
“Never lose 360-degree security, and take the opportunity to try to save a life when you can,” the instructor calls out.
They’re practicing what is known as “quick rapid intervention,” and officers, emergency responders as well as school and civic officials from around the Harbor, participated in lifelike exercises last weekend to prepare a plan in case the area ever faces a crises such as the Newtown, Conn. school shooting.
“The quicker you can get there and do something, the better off you are,” said Curt Wilson, Seattle Police Department firearms instructor.
Wilson and a team of Seattle officers from the department’s Advanced Training Unit offered their tactical skills for the sessions, knowing that Ocean Shores and other smaller agencies are tight on training budgets and need to know how to respond in events such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy that took the lives of 26 people Dec. 14.
“It’s been shown time and time again in these things, if you an intercede with any type of authority, the minute these type of perpetrators are confronted, they either commit suicide or surrender or they hole up,” Wilson said.
Wilson was particularly interested in helping Ocean Shores-area responders because he also happens to have a vacation home in Ocean Shores. He and several other Seattle Police officers also work with Hoquiam Detective Sgt. Shane Krohn, who is the Hoquiam Police firearms instructor.
The exercises last weekend were part of what is called an active-shooter plan that will include the Aberdeen Fire Department, working with the Hoquiam Police and Fire departments, and the Aberdeen Police Department.
“As the plan expands to other agencies, it could become a regional plan,” said Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers. “That was why we opened so many training slots to other agencies.”
Also participating were the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Department, the state Parks Department, the Quinault Indian Nation, the Montesano, Westport and Cosmopolis police departments, as well as a number of others. Sixty people in all went through the training.
“We have been trying to get a regional training consortium together, so we can respond on a regional basis rather than an individual basis,” Wilson said.
Some of the participants have not had to work on such skills “for a long time,” Wilson noted, so the idea is to start with the basics and then work up to more complicated situations in a “building-block approach” to how they respond.
The Seattle Police Department has long had an active-shooter plan in place. It’s something that can be put into action for any number of possible scenarios.
“It can be at a hotel where someone tries to kill everybody, or at the bowling alley, convention center or anywhere,” Wilson said. “It’s training that can be used in any of those situations where you’ve got someone who is aggressively and actively trying to hurt others.”
Ocean Shores and the North Beach can become particularly vulnerable, Wilson points out, because of their relative distance from other responding agencies, which is why it’s important to have all the local agencies participating in the same training exercises together.
The idea in entering such a building with an active shooter is to enter with a five-person diamond formation, with one person looking forward, one in the rear, two on each side, and a team leader the middle.
“That gives you full coverage and you’re ready to go,” Wilson said.
But in Ocean Shores, for example, the first response might only be two or three officers maximum on duty at any given time.
That’s why a state Parks ranger at Ocean City might be called on to respond, or Hoquiam might have to send officers up.
“We want to let them see how to integrate and work together so they have seen it, they’ve trained for it and they can drop back on the tactics and techniques they are working with here,” Wilson said.
Although most of the scenarios involved the threat of a shooter, just the threat of violence could be enough to call for such a response.
“Maybe it’s an estranged husband who is threatening with a knife, or any threat of violence in a crowded environment where you have multiple victims possible,” he said.
Wilson said the Seattle Police Department provides the gear and funds the training because it is committed to making the skills available on a regional basis.
On Jan. 26, the group training at Ocean Shores Elementary School included North Beach School District Supt. Stan Pinnick and Principal Karen Ellingson as well as Mayor Crystal Dingler.
“We talked to them about what their current action plan is at the school and what they can do,” Wilson said. “This allows them to adjust the policies if they need to, or fine tune them. They will know what the police plan is when something bad happens in their school.”
In the Monday session, medics and EMS responders from fire departments also observed to learn about how they “come in and integrate in this type of situation,” Wilson said, noting that in Seattle a team of medics actually goes in with the SWAT team.
Myers credited Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard for leading the effort to extend the training locally to EMS responders, calling it the “next piece of this initiative.” The goal is that the response be “safe, coordinated and efficient given the circumstances,” Myers said.
“Every agency in the county will require assistance with this sort of incident and it is important everyone has an idea of what to expect as far as response and tactic,” he said.