SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -With guns drawn, Slippery Rock University Police officers burst through the hallways of the former Stanley B. Kraus Hall looking for "bad guys." They enter the bedrooms in pairs, using a tactical maneuver as if they expect to encounter a shooter.
Although moving in real time, it's not an actual emergency but an advanced training exercise to improve readiness, officer safety and lessen the potential for loss of life during a real crisis. Police officers recently participated in the active-shooter and building-search training in case an incident such as the 2007 Virginia Tech rampage were to unfold locally.
SRU has been named one of the 50 safest campuses in the nation by The Daily Beast, but the unfortunate reality is no university is impervious to the potential for violence. Active shooter situations evolve quickly, are unpredictable and require an immediate deployment of law enforcement. The most effective way to train police officers to respond is to conduct mock active shooter training, participants said.
"Active shooter training is important because it provides the basics in responding to high violence incidents," said Windy Stafford, SRU assistant police chief. "The first responders - police officers - must have the skill set to defend themselves and our community. To do that we need to train and be better prepared, and that is why training is so valuable."
The North Hills Special Response Team led the drills. It is a multi-jurisdictional SWAT team comprised of police officers from the Allegheny County Sherriff's Office and more than 10 municipal police departments north of Pittsburgh. The team provides communities of the North Hills with a rapid response unit that is able to deal with incidents outside the abilities of traditional police response. Incorporated in 2005, the unit uses "Solve Forsit," which is Latin for solve the problem, as its motto.
The team arrived in a mobile command post. Training officers donned bulletproof vests, helmets and picked up ballistics shields and breaching tools before leading SRU police into Kraus for training.
Kevin Sharkey, SRU police supervisor, said the training took a team approach. When entering bedrooms, officers move in two by two with their backs to each other. This tactic attempts to prevent a crossfire and covers the whole room, he said.
Sharkey said he learned more about rapid response.
"We learned how to quickly respond to these types of incidents and to stop the threat and to save as many lives as possible," he said. "We also learned how to extract the wounded if necessary to quickly get them medical aid. We also touched on setting up command posts for such an incident. We know if there is an active shooter on this campus, and from lessons learned from other school shootings that the first priority is to stop the shooter from killing more innocent victims."
SRU police recently received patrol rifles for this type of incidents, he said. "The officers will be trained and qualified by me on the rifles in the near future. Now with the Metis alerting system in place, the texting alerting system and our training, if a situation such as this does occur we will be able to do a better job in saving lives than say five years ago. Training and practice is always a key component to success."
Gary Wolverton, a deputy with the Allegheny County Sherriff's Office, said the interior movement training would benefit SRU officers in many suspect apprehension situations. They include fugitives, warrants, burglars, or "anytime you're looking for someone inside a building and you suspect there could be a weapon involved."
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.