Henry, Des Moines County emergency response personnel taking three-day active shooter course

By Brooks Taylor, Mt. Pleasant News


Active shooter training is fairly common around the country.

However, few training programs mirror what?s happening at the former women?s prison in Mt. Pleasant. Walt Jackson, county emergency management director, calls it ?active shooter (training) on steroids.?

Jackson and Gina Hardin, Des Moines County Emergency Management director, have teamed up to offer a three-day Rescue Task Force Hostage Event Interdiction which began Tuesday and concludes today (Thurs.). Training each day runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Class size was limited to 30 people and the roster for this class includes law enforcement, fire department and EMTs from the two counties.

Jackson said this training differs from other sessions in that active shooter training has law enforcement putting down the threat, which concludes the exercise. In the training this week, an aftermath element is added. ?They have to put down the threat and then determine the next course of action,? Jackson explained.

The course is funded by Iowa Homeland Security and features two instructors from South Carolina and one from California, who are employed by the Government Training Institute.

Hosting such an event is quite a coup, Jackson said. ?They have these all over the state, but Gina and I had to fight hard to get it here. First of all, you must have adequate facilities and the process to acquire the training is very competitive.?

Ryan Wilka, New London police chief, said the training so far has been an eye-opener. ?You think you know exactly what you are going to do, but when people are coming at you, it changes things and adds stress.?

Jackson said the former prison is the perfect spot for such an event because it has three floors and a basement, large and small rooms and many of the rooms have more than one door.

The training is designed so that each day builds on the previous day?s training, Jackson noted. On Tuesday, attendees spent the majority of the day in the classroom. Yesterday, more simulations (active shooter in the building) were added and Thursday there will be rescue vehicles added to transport the wounded to hospitals.

Reggie Williamson, a member of the New London Fire Department, has been an EMT for over 40 years and said the course has been very beneficial. ?EMS is easy, but now we are doing things as told by law enforcement. We are the second fiddle now. Taking orders for law enforcement is new for me.

?The hardest thing for me,? Williamson continued, ?is getting the injured out of the building to be treated. Normally, we do the treating on the scene, but here we have to stop the bleeding and get them out.?

Henry County Sheriff Rich McNamee said the most significant thing he?s learned is that time is of the essence. ?We have to keep our minds aimed at the conclusion. There is no time for second guessing. We have to keep moving forward to stop the threat and save the injured. Your stress level increases as scenarios happen. Things are changing by the second.?

Wilka said training is of utmost importance to law enforcement and emergency responders. ?In situations like this, you don?t know what to expect. You never can be completely prepared for something like this. That is why you have to keep training.?

Jackson said he is pleased with the makeup of the class. ?We have a lot of people here in leadership positions which is good because they are the ones who make the changes. A lot of time, we just have the ?young bucks.??

He also said it is beneficial that Henry and Des Moines County personnel are training together because active shooter situations could potentially impact both counties simultaneously. ?This way they can work and train together instead of exchanging business cards at the door.?

While such training is very important and beneficial, McNamee summed it up best when he said, ?Hopefully, we never need (to use) it.?