HOUMA, La. — It was the kind of training Terrebonne Parish sheriff’s Capt. Shane Fletcher said he hopes to never use.
“You try to make this as real as possible at certain times,” Fletcher said as the sound of gunfire echoed in the halls of Terrebonne High School today.
The Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office and Houma Police Department gathered at the school to simulate active shooting scenarios and become better equipped to respond to such incidents. About 75 officers participated in the training exercises.
Instructors from both agencies conduct the training four times during the summer.
“We do it during the summer because it’s easier for the school resource officers to attend it,” said Chief Deputy Col. Terry Daigre. “SROs are probably the most important people who attend this training. It’s state-standardized training that we’ve been doing for 15 years.”
The training comes just days after 12 people lost their lives in a mass shooting in Virginia Beach.
Although a mass shooting can occur anywhere, the training is conducted in schools because children are the most vulnerable, Daigre said.
“It can happen in churches, it happens in office buildings, movie theaters and workplaces,” he said. “But what hits the hearts of most people is children. So that’s why we keep the schools as our highest priority.”
Law enforcement agencies began synchronizing active shooter training after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, Daigre said.
“The reason why the training remains the same across the country is departments integrate on things like this,” he said. “You don’t know who’s going to show up, so we all train the same. The purpose of it is for us to eliminate the threat as quickly as possible. This is not a SWAT effort. It involves patrol officers, detectives and correctional officers. We all train the exact same way.”
Training to take down active shooters has evolved over the years, Fletcher said.
“We’re constantly working on things to make it better for us in preparation for this,” Fletcher said. “Every scenario is different so we try to change things up every summer. Today we’re focusing on single officers responding to active shootings.”
Daigre described active shooter training as a fast and furious process.
“The old stagnant way of being slow and methodical to get through this is done,” Daigre added. “Now it’s very quick. You get to the threat and neutralize it. The longer it takes you to get to the threat the more lives will be lost. We’re not here to Monday morning quarterback what happens in other jurisdictions, but we do look at how things unfolded in other places so we can learn from them.”
There are several variables when it comes to active shooter situations, Daigre said.
“The shooter isn’t the only thing you have to deal with,” he said. “You’re going to also deal with hysteria from the public, extreme traffic issues and medial issues. The biggest purpose is saving lives, but there are other issues that surround it.”
Sometimes teachers take part in active shooter drills, but the realism can be difficult for them to process, Fletcher said.
“We’ve done it in schools where teachers are involved,” he said. “One of our officers fires a gun with blanks in it around the hallways so they can hear what it sounds like when gunshots are fired in different areas. Although we tell the teachers they’re only shooting blanks, you’ll be amazed how some of them start shivering. People aren’t used to hearing that sound.”
It’s a sound that Daigre hopes Terrebonne will never hear in reality.
“We base our training so that we’re best prepared for incidents that we hope never occur,” he said.