CHENEY -- School's out for spring break at Eastern Washington University, but class is in session for campus police who are using university buildings as a life-sized training facility for emergency response.
While many state colleges have their own police force they are relatively small departments and in the case of universities like Eastern and Washington State in Cheney and Pullman respectively they are also in relatively remote locations.
That means the officers safeguarding students may be on their own in a crisis situation.
In most barricaded suspect situations time is on the police officer's side. As long as no one is getting hurt the department can call up its SWAT team and negotiate a safe resolution.
However when someone is actively shooting hostages like the 32 people who died at Virginia Tech, campus police don't have time to wait for reinforcements.
"The ability to think on your feet and adapt to the situation at a moment's notice, on the fly so to speak is what's so valuable here," EWU Deputy Police Chief Gary Gasseling said.
The 'Active Shooter' protocol was developed after the massacre at Columbine High School on April 20,1999 near Denver, Colorado. Students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, armed with pistols, shotguns and carbines went on a rampage, killing 13 people and wounding 24 more before taking their lives. In that situation police waited too long to confront the gunmen and students and staff inside paid the price.
Eastern Washington University police don't plan on making the same mistake.
"We hope it never happens here but if it does we are going to be prepared to the best degree that we can and have our officers ready to deal with the situation and we need to get that out to the students and the parents that we take this very, very seriously," Deputy Chief Gasseling said.
The need for urgency in confronting a gunman actively shooting hostage includes having a quick initial attack. As soon as there are three or four officers on the scene they'll band together in a diamond formation and with the help of a ballistic shield hunt down the gunman before he can hurt anyone else.
"There's not one right way to do it, if the right way is to successfully come through this without anybody getting hurt us first and the bad guy second and if anybody's gonna get hurt it's gonna be the bad guy," Deputy Chief Gasseling said.
Local police agencies have also learned another valuable lesson from the Virginia Tech shootings. On April 16, 2007 gunman Seung-Hui Cho chained the three main entrances to Norris Hall at Virginia Tech shut before going from room to room shooting teachers and students in the worst campus shooting in US history.
In preparation for having to conduct a breach on a building that has been locked shut from the inside, the Spokane SWAT team is now equipped with shaped charges that can be used to conduct an explosive breach into a building.
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