The University Police Department and Charleston Police Department used McAfee Gym Tuesday and Thursday over spring break to train officers for active shooter scenarios.
Brett Compton, patrol officer for the CPD, said this training has taken place annually for over 10 years, usually rotating among public schools in the area.
Compton said this was the first time the officers have used McAfee Gym as their training grounds.
The officers used around two-thirds of the rooms in the building. They have also used Carman Hall in the past to train.
Training in McAfee was especially valuable to CPD officers, Compton said, because it exposes them to areas they do not know very well, as it is the UPD who usually respond to calls on campus.
Compton said the CPD has an outdoor range on the outskirts of Charleston, but it cannot provide all the training officers need.
“There are only so many ways to change (the outdoor range). We need to be familiar with a variety of locations,” Compton said.
Before each training exercise, officers attended a short lecture explaining new common practices.
Officers need to use different strategies when a school implements ALICE training, which prepares teachers for an active shooter scenario, Compton said.
ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.
Compton said the scenarios were designed to feel as realistic as possible.
The UPD and CPD used blank rounds that recoil and make nearly as much noise as regular ammunition.
“In an older building like (McAfee), sounds echo and it can disorient you. You may think the gunfire came down from one way, when it really came from a different direction,” he said.
Compton said active shooter scenarios are rare, but it is still important to train for them regularly.
“It may happen at a low frequency, but if it does happen, the stakes are extremely high,” he said.
Brian Hissong, patrol officer for the CPD, said knowing one’s surroundings is crucial.
“If someone has a heart attack, being familiar with the terrain can help shave off a full minute from the response time,” he said.
Hissong said he and other officers regularly visit schools outside of training times to make sure they know their way around. They also visit schools to deter would-be criminals.
“We want to be so visible that they know we’ll be there,” he said.
Alex Oakley, detective for the University Police Department, said training with the CPD helped both departments learn better how to communicate with one another. “An active shooter scenario can be very confusing. So the fewer obstacles we have, the better,” he said.
Oakley said if UPD officers said on the radio there was an active shooter at a certain office at Eastern, UPD officers would know where to go.
But they would need to make sure to communicate the location very clearly to CPD officers who may not know the campus as well.
Oakley said exercises were still beneficial for UPD officers familiar with the campus.
“Training in an active shooter scenario forces you to see familiar places with a new perspective,” he said.
The building’s narrow spiral staircases can slow down movement, and there are a lot of shortcuts through offices that one might not ordinarily notice, he said.
McAfee also has many awkward hallways and corridors that can be difficult to clear in small teams, Oakley said, because there are not enough officers to hold previous ground.
“An active shooter (in McAfee Gym) is a worst-case scenario, so it makes for better training,” Oakley said. “If we have been trained to respond there, we will have a much easier time responding in less difficult areas.”
Leon Mire can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]