(Daytona Beach News-Journal article/published December 30, 2015)
During Christmas break, 13 newly hired Volusia County Sheriff's deputies swarmed through Galaxy Middle School in Deltona with guns drawn, training for a mass shooting scenario.
As mass shootings and terrorist attacks have unfolded around the world, law enforcement agencies in Volusia and Flagler counties say they are training constantly in case such a tragedy should occur here.
For local police, the attack in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2 that left 14 people dead at a holiday party brought home the realization that such assaults are not limited to big cities, such as New York or Los Angeles, they say.
"It can happen anywhere," Daytona Beach Deputy Police Chief Craig Capri said.
On average, a mass shooting has occurred in the United States every 2.9 months since 2006, according to a video produced by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, which defines a mass shooting as one in which more than four people are killed.
Officials with local law enforcement agencies, including the Volusia and Flagler Sheriff's offices, and Daytona Beach, Port Orange and DeLand police departments, say their sworn personnel and even some civilian employees train for active shooter/mass shooter situations on a daily, monthly and annual basis.
Daytona Beach police, for example, refer to their training program as "active threat training," Capri said.
"To say 'active shooter' limits it," Capri said. "These days we have other types of threats besides shootings."
Capri said all sworn personnel in the Daytona Beach Police Department — from Police Chief Mike Chitwood to the newest cop on the beat — go through the active threat training annually. Also, officers sharpen their shooting skills every quarter at the shooting range in preparation for a catastrophic event. New hires are taken through active threat training as part of their initial training before going out on the street solo.
But training also goes on daily. "We train all the time. Fifteen minutes a day even when we're going over our directives," he said.
The agency's SWAT team has upgraded its tactical equipment and training, as well. Despite recent criticism about the militarization of law enforcement agencies, Capri said he believes that kind of equipment is more necessary now than ever. That's true in a place like Daytona Beach, which is known around the world as the home of NASCAR's signature race, the Daytona 500, as well as for other special events that attract thousands of people annually.
"All the law enforcement agencies in the area here work together," Capri said. "If something like that were to happen, the response would be automatic. If you prepare for the worst, you're going to be OK."
At the Volusia County Sheriff's Office, some trainers refer to their mass casualty training as "active killer threat," said Deputy Dennis Terrero, one of the trainers. Last week, Terrero and other trainers for the agency were putting the 13 brand-new deputies through an active killer threat scenario at Galaxy Middle School in Deltona. All new hires go through 16 hours of active killer or active-shooter training as part of their 15-week training before they go solo on the job.
On this particular afternoon, the new deputies swept through the hallways of the school during Christmas break, simulating a mass shooting. The exercise was a complex, choreographed session that demonstrated how essential it is for law enforcement agencies to have a well-oiled plan in place.
Aside from the training for new hires, there is also refresher training for deputies assigned to the courthouses and basic active shooter training that all sworn personnel must go through, Terrero said.
In early 2016, the agency will also provide training for firefighters on what to expect after an active shooter has attacked.
"Firefighters will not go in until we stop the threat," Terrero said.
Like other agencies, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office is armed with an intelligence unit that communicates with the FBI and other federal partners regularly about any information or intelligence on possible threats to the area.
But local agencies say they cannot share that information publicly.
It can be impossible to prevent an attack like the one in San Bernardino, California, where a terrorist attack by a married couple killed people attending a holiday party at a county-owned building. Fourteen people died and more than 20 were injured when the couple opened fire on the partygoers. Friends and family of the killers — who were later fatally shot by police — told investigators that they had no idea what the pair was planning.
Sometimes people intent on killing in large numbers will talk about their plans or post information on social media, Terrero said, stressing the importance of the community's help in preventing such attacks.
Flagler County Sheriff's Office spokesman Jim Troiano agrees that citizens are often the ones who can help law enforcement stave off a mass shooting.
"Truly our community is our eyes and ears," Troiano said. "It's very important coupled with the intelligence we receive from other agencies including our federal partners."
All new Flagler deputies receive active shooter training and trainers are constantly studying and assessing incidents around the world to determine how the agency can improve or add to its training curriculum, Troiano said.
All sworn personnel go through annual high-liability training and before school started last fall, there was an active shooter exercise at one of the schools, Troiano said. The agency's SWAT team trains monthly and also in conjunction with the tactical teams of sheriff's offices in Volusia and St. Johns counties.
At the Port Orange Police Department, Lt. Aaron McIlrath said his department trains continuously for what they call Criminal Mass Casualty Incidents. The training is given to new officers and is used for in-service training. McIlrath said the department also uses "table top" exercises.
"Table top exercises involve scenario-based training where procedures are reviewed and implemented from a theoretical point of view," McIlrath said in an email. "The officers are walked through the scenario and required to make decisions on tactics, activities, resources, etc."
Two years ago, the department completed four full-scale active shooter exercises that included firefighters, 20 officers and eight to 12 victims.
At the DeLand Police Department, spokesman Sgt. Chris Estes said the department also includes civilians in its active shooter/mass casualty training. That means coordinating with local schools, universities, other law enforcement agencies and medical responders, Estes said.
"In terms of having a plan in place, the plan is ongoing training and preparation in order to be ready to deal with a situation," Estes said in an email.
Administrative offices: West Volusia 386-736-5961 Daytona Beach 386-254-4689 New Smyrna Beach 386-423-3352
Non-emergency dispatch numbers: DeLand 386-943-8276 Daytona Beach 386-239-8276 New Smyrna Beach 386-409-8276 Osteen 407-323-0151