ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Local SWAT teams and other first responders have stepped up training exercises in the wake of the July 20th shooting rampage at a move theater in Aurora Colorado, which left 12 dead and dozens more wounded.
“It doesn’t start with Aurora, it starts actually with Columbine,” explains Nick Gragnani, executive director of STARRS, the St. Louis Area Regional Response System.
They oversee how Homeland Security funds are spent locally to optimize the region’s ability to respond to threats or attacks, including “active shooter” situations like the one in Aurora.
That includes adopting and implementing new strategies.
“In the past, before these types of incidents had been occurring, law enforcement officials would tell the paramedics ‘Wait until we clear this building’,” Gragnani says, noting that’s why it took so long for help to reach those trapped inside Columbine High School when two students went on a killing spree in April 1999. “Now the teaching is ‘You go with us. As we clear sections of the building you take care of those that we come upon’.”
Another quality instilled in armed first responders — restraint.
Gragnani says those entering that chaotic scene inside Theater #9 at the Aurora 16 cineplex could have “taken out” the shooter once he was identified, and few would begrudge whatever means necessary to end the slaughter.
Besides the issue of having a large crowd still inside the theater that could have been caught in the crossfire, Gragnani says in this instance the SWAT team’s restraint might have ended up preventing more lives from being lost because suspect James Holmes told them that his apartment was booby-trapped.
He couldn’t have done that if he’d been killed at the scene.
“Definitely,” emphasizes Gragnani. “Although law enforcement officials don’t just go to to a scene thinking it’s just a normal apartment…they would have taken precautions.”
But he says it definitely helped to know that Holmes’ dwelling was rigged with a series of potentially deadly weapons, including artillery shells and improvised incendiary devices containing homemade napalm and other accelerants.
“Plus at that point you don’t know if he’s acting alone or working with a group,” Gragnani says.
Much work remains — local agencies are in the process of building a microwave network to improve interagency communications in times of crisis.
St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson Counties have signed contracts with Motorola to build and design a new system linking those three counties.
Once that’s done, work will begin on establishing an eight-county network that provides inter-operability throughout the St. Louis region.
Gragnani says even members of the public can help simply by becoming more observant, and having the courage to act if something seems out of place.
“If it seems strange then it is strange,” he says. “You know the area better than anybody so if something just doesn’t look right, then say something.
That’s the best way that we can get in front of these types of events.”