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Council trains for what could happen

WILLMAR -- The gunshot sound was sharp and echoed in the Willmar City Council Chambers, sending heart rates soaring and people scrambling for the exits."It was loud and scary," City Administrator Larry Kruse said.Thankfully it was all a drill, pu...

WILLMAR - The gunshot sound was sharp and echoed in the Willmar City Council Chambers, sending heart rates soaring and people scrambling for the exits.
“It was loud and scary,” City Administrator Larry Kruse said.
Thankfully it was all a drill, put on by Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt and Police Officer Michael Jahnke, Willmar Police Community Outreach sergeant. The safety training, which included active shooter simulations, took place before Tuesday’s city council meeting.
In an era where shootings and other violent acts are all too common, staff and officials believed it would be a good idea for the city council and others who regularly attend the meetings to have some idea what can happen during a violent event and how to react.
“Having a real basic plan in place can provide safety for everyone,” Felt said.
Jahnke, who has given such training presentations before, talked about priorities during a violent event, whether it is a shooting or someone rushing the council table.
“Run, hide, fight” Felt said.
If at all possible civilians should try to get out of the way, whether by running or finding somewhere to hide.
“Let police handle it,” Felt said.
However, if there is no way out, people can try to defend themselves.
“If everything else fails, you throw things at the person, tackle him,” Felt said.
In most cases it is a single individual causing the violence, with some kind of connection to the place or people being targeted, Felt said.
“Most of the time these people are looking for revenge,” Felt said.
The city council was shown a video from a 2010 school board meeting in Florida, where a man upset about his wife’s firing from the district, took the board hostage and then began firing a gun. None of the hostages were harmed in that instance, though the gunman was first shot by police and then took his own life.
At the end of the training the Willmar council and staff took part in two different active shooter simulations. A starter gun, usually used to signal the start of a race, was used to illustrate not only what a gun sounds like, but add a little bit of realism to the training.
“Hearing it changes the tone,” Felt said.
The simulations not only gave the council an opportunity to practice the plan and know where to go, but was also a positive for law enforcement as well. They were able to see where things might need to be tweaked and how people could get out quickly. If a violent act would occur at the meeting, Felt wouldn’t have time to get people out because he would have to deal with the person causing the issue.
“It would be our jobs as officers to deal with it,” Felt said.
Felt hopes training such as this can be a regular occurrence, no different than fire and tornado drills.
“I think it would be good for more entities to do things like this. It is good common sense,” Felt said.
Of course it is a plan Felt hopes never, ever, has to be used. But, if the worse was to happen at least people would have an idea on what to do.
“Just talking about it can shave minutes off a response,” Felt said.
Kruse said the council appreciated the training, as it helped them understand some of the dynamics and prepare them for a situation that could occur.
Felt doesn’t know of any physically violent situations having occurred during a council meeting, but said being prepared is never a bad thing.
“I think it was beneficial for everyone. We got people thinking about some what ifs,” Felt said.

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