FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — Over the last two weeks, more than 300 first responders from agencies across Florence County trained on active assailant response in an annual course aimed at helping during mass casualty events.
Capt. Mike Brandt with the Florence Police Department said such trainings were first offered in response to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and have grown more complex every year.
This year’s course took place in the closed Cedar Tower hospital near downtown Florence and incorporated emergency medical services in addition to law enforcement. During the training, active assailants could have been armed with a gun loaded with paint bullets, or a knife.
Brandt said officers’ first step is to take out the threat, then tend to and evacuate victims. In addition to teaching tactics, the training is meant to aid with quick thinking under immense stress.
“It helps the officers map out those pathways in their brain for making the decisions and moving past the horrific emotions they will experience in the moment,” Brandt said. “They will still experience them, but at least we can push the envelope a little bit longer.”
Sgt. Justin Head, the training sergeant and SWAT team leader for the Florence Police Department, said after the shooting in Uvalde, some of the key topics taught in the course were single-officer response and establishing a chain of command.
“When you look at the situation in Uvalde, there were over 300 officers on-scene at one point and one of the big criticisms is that there was no clear incident command,” Head said. “There was no one in charge which led to the lack of leadership on the scene and resulted in the tragic loss of life.”
He said it can take around 45 minutes for the SWAT team to arrive at a scene — time potential victims don’t always have.
He said the course trains officers to engage assailants immediately.
“That officer is arriving on scene as shots are ringing out, or whatever else could be happening. Mass stabbings, cars driving through people,” Head said. “The officer is not waiting for backup. They are going into the building and solving the problem.”
Brandt said once the assailant is dealt with, officers must collaborate with paramedics to care for the injured and clear the area.
“We stop the killing, then we bring that set in to stop the dying,” he said.
He said updating the curriculum with factors from the most recent mass shootings is critical to keeping people safe should one occur in Florence County.
“If you’re standing still, you’re actually moving backwards, taking a loss,” Brandt said. “We are trying to be proactive in making sure our officers have all of the tools possible to get the job done.”
He hopes the training can become a county-wide event in the future. Employees of the Florence Police Department, Florence County Sheriff’s Office, Pamplico Police Department, FMU Police Department, Florence Fire Department, Howe Springs Fire Department and Florence County Dispatch participated.