WAYNE COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Local schools and law enforcement are stepping up protection to handle emergencies after shootings and gun threats across the nation in recent months.
Wayne County Sheriff’s deputies finished a week of SWAT training on Friday by going through active shooter drills to prepare for the worst situations.
While the goal is to prevent threats and shootings from happening in the first place, Wayne County Sheriff Greg Farley said they also train to react and respond quickly if an emergency does happen.
“We may not be present should an individual show up at a school to do an atrocity like that, but we will be responding quickly and may be able to prevent it from happening,” Farley said.
Ten of his deputies are going through SWAT training, which includes active shooter drills, in order to deal with emergency situations like December’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Farley said Wayne County has been fortunate enough to avoid gun violence in the past.
“We've had one incident, a couple years ago at Wayne High School where a gentleman was arrested outside the building with a shotgun,” Farley said. “But we have not had any forced entries or terroristic acts inside our schools.”
When incidents involving guns or threats happen in other areas of the country or the state, Farley said his department often deals with “copycat” threats.
Sgt. Stafford Poff is among the men getting trained as a tactical officer. He said they deal with active shooters differently now than they did before recent school shooting tragedies.
“We took our time, [it] was meticulous,” Poff said. “Now, if you know where the threat is, you know that there's someone actively shooting inside, you go straight to the threat."
Wayne County Schools, like others in the area, have police officers who visit the schools regularly to keep tabs on what’s going on. Farley said his deputies are familiar with the district buildings and are simply upgrading their training.
“We worked last year with a contractor that blue-printed our schools and gave us the necessary information we need for points of entry,” Farley said.
To make the active shooter drills more realistic, blanks are used as ammunition. One of the guns the department uses is a semi-automatic weapon.
“I'm sure it's not real life,” Poff said. “But it's probably about 50 or 60 percent stress level of what they would actually be under in the real situation.”
Poff said the training will be beneficial for situations in the county that don’t take place in the school setting.
“This type training, even though today we're in a school and it's active shooter, these officers can use this same training when they're going to a house and there's a burglar alarm and they're clearing a house,” Poff said.
The deputies being trained as tactical officers can step in and help when they respond to a scene that would normally require SWAT officers, Poff said. That means a threat can be eliminated by detaining a suspect immediately, without waiting up to 45 minutes for SWAT officers to arrive.
“Whoever gets here, you're going in [and] trying to eliminate the threat as quickly as possible,” Poff said.