An "active shooter" drill in Northampton County helped police, school officials and emergency crews practice their response to a rampage like Friday's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Nazareth Area Intermediate School was the scene of multiple -- staged -- tragedies July 26 during specialized training co-hosted by the Upper Nazareth Township Police Department and National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA).
About 20 police officers from six Northampton County departments participated in the “Active Shooter” training that Don Alwes, an instructor with NTOA, described as “kind of like a scrimmage.”
The 10-hour day included a historical overview of active shooter situations and field training exercises, during which the officers fired their pellet-filled weapons and were fired upon.
While the course heavily focused on situations that involve guns, the officers were trained to handle any situation that poses a threat to a mass of people. A knife-wielding student, for example, poses a significant threat in a crowded hallway.
Upper Nazareth has co-hosted the training for three years, according to Mark Herman, who has been with the department for six years.
Herman explained that Upper Nazareth is the perfect location for training because of the temporary swell in population during the day. Within township boundaries, there are three schools, Gracedale and Northampton County Emergency Management Services.
“We’d have departments from all over the area responding here,” Herman said. “We train so we know how to handle that situation.”
In addition to Upper Nazareth, five other departments sent officers for training:
- Colonial Regional Police
- Bushkill Township Police Department
- Tatamy Borough Police Department
- Northampton County Sheriffs Department
- Lehigh University Police Department
According to Nazareth Police Chief Thomas Trachta, all of the borough's full-time and day-tour officers -- the chief included -- participated in the training in 2011.
A Northampton County 911 dispatcher also attended this year's training. According to Scott Greb, an Upper Nazareth officer, the dispatcher said he left with a new appreciation for what happens on the other side of the radio.
The timing of the "Active Shooter" training -- six days after 24-year-old James Holmes allegedly opened fire inside a Colorado movie theater -- was a coincidence.
“It drives it home,” Alwes said of the Colorado shooting’s effect on Thursday’s training. “I played the police audio. I think it really drives it home when you hear the officers on the radio.”