PASO ROBLES — Thanks to years of planning and training, local law enforcement agencies say they are prepared for the possibility of an active shooter situation on campuses in the North County.
Sheriff Ian Parkinson said he met with the county’s police chiefs a few years ago and together they created a three-year plan to improve response and notification of training with local schools and were able to fund training and equipment through the Department of Homeland Security.
“Even though we are representing separate entities, the chiefs and I have always been on the same page on what we collectively we wanted to do,” Parkinson said.
The partner agencies developed a training program and bought equipment specifically to meet the goal of cooperatively preparing for an active shooter situation. The sheriff’s office purchased a machine called a VirTra V-300™, known as a “use of force” simulator, one of only four such devices in the state of California. The simulator gives officers an idea of what it feels like to be in an active shooter situation, with 360 degrees of screens and immersive sound.
Another piece of training equipment acquired was the iCOMBAT Laser training. Essentially, it is a vest with lights and a belt that officers wear that administers a low-level shock when the officer is “hit.” Parkinson said that the laser training system enables them to go into a school or an office and practice response in a real world setting.
“All of our officers undergo active shooter response training,” said Commander Tim Murphy with Paso Robles Police Department. “Nowadays, it starts at the basic academy level and they get refresher training through the department. We work with our counterparts throughout the county to network with them to maximize our training opportunities with the officers. If something were to occur here at Paso Robles High School and we needed help, you will see other officers probably in every law enforcement agency in the county and all the emergency service providers would be here. That’s where planning and preparation really come into play. If you don’t have that coordinated — at least a plan — ahead of time, then it’s much harder to manage all those resources under stress.”
Active shooter training occurs countywide every two years. The sheriff’s office will typically host these drills at Camp San Luis. Most of the training is focused on operations. The training is purposefully designed to integrate different departments with a focus on how to respond effectively and immediately to an incident.
“If a deputy and an officer were the first ones on scene, they’re going in together right away and that training is really imperative,” Parkinson said.
The sheriff’s office is planning on another season of training for June and July.
“Years ago we did an active training at the Atascadero high school,” Sgt. Caleb Davis with the Atascadero Police Department said. “Since that time we have worked with the county and the local school jurisdiction, (deciding) how we would respond to incidents and locations that are important to us. The biggest thing we have done over the last two years is partnering with the school district to get our school resource officer position up and running. That gives us a real insight into the school and most importantly to the kids and what’s going on a daily basis. We feel we have done a pretty good job working collaboratively with the district through our school resource officer to be as prepared as possible for any incidents around the school district.”
Most of the federal funding for school resource officer personnel are short lived, with most school districts or local agencies having to fund the positions themselves. The sheriff’s office has six school deputies, three of them covering schools in the North County including one in Templeton, another one for Shandon and San Miguel and another in Cambria and Cayucos.
“If threats do occur, we network and we work closely with our partners here at the school jurisdiction — we have an amazing relationship with them,” Murphy said. “Because of that relationship with them, it allows for a relatively seamless response to threats if they develop.”
The sheriff’s office is working on implementing another tool that anyone anywhere on campus can use. The RAVE mobile app will use a “geofence,” — basically an invisible boundary line. Outside the fence the app would provide a button to activate a regular 911 call, but within school boundaries the button changes to allow for an active shooter alert and can give the person’s physical location on campus real time.It also allows staff and law enforcement to communicate with all the staff members in real time.
The sheriff’s office is currently installing new equipment at its dispatch center that works with the RAVE app. In a few months, personnel at the largest schools in the sheriff’s’ jurisdiction will be set up with the app and trained. Templeton High School will be one of the first to use the app in an upcoming exercise. By this summer, the sheriff’s office expects to roll the app out to the rest of the schools in the county. The app could potentially help police locate an active shooter on campus in a timely manner.
“That sometimes is the mystery because if you think about a school environment, with all the buildings and hallways, rounds going off could exit all over and no one truly knows where it’s coming from,” Parkison said. “With the button, it gives us the ability to have someone to say it’s occurring right here, and we know where here is without a description.”
The sheriff’s office also has also mapped out the 100 schools in the county and the digital maps work in conjunction with the RAVE app. The map comes with a custom format that divides the school into different areas, helping to direct officers to a consistent location on the map. The map format also gave all law enforcement agencies consistent location terminology, but also contains phone numbers for key school personnel, points of contact and where to access keys.
Parkinson said that if something were to happen in Paso Robles for instance and Atascadero, CHP and Sheriff responded, they may not be familiar with that school’s layout, but since the maps are in an electronic format they can push it out to the responding car.
“Our job when something like that happens is to get them there as fast as possible,” Parkinson said.
“Every officer has that while on patrol,” Murphy said. “And if they need to respond to an emergency outside of the city or jurisdiction, they can, with a touch of the button, get a map to that campus and already have a visual idea of what that campus looks like and where they need to go to help out in that jurisdiction... A huge volume of work that the Sheriff’s Office spearheaded and every agency in the county assisted. It’s a really great product that will definitely help emergency responders in times of emergency.”
For more information on the RAVE mobile safety app please visit www.ravemobilesafety.com.
For more information, you may reach Reporter Elizabeth Enriquez-Phillips at [email protected] for questions and/or feedback.