by Sheila Gardner

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December 14, 2012
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Keeping vigilant for an unpredictable tragedy

Undersheriff Paul Howell said Friday that while Douglas County hasn't endured a mass shooting such as the tragedy at a Connecticut elementary school, the department is as prepared as it can be for such an unpredictable incident.

A 20-year-old gunman opened fire at the school Friday killing 20 children and six faculty and staff. He was found dead at the site, bringing the total to 27.

"From a reaction standpoint, our department would respond just like Connecticut. You send all the resources you can to deal with the aftermath, the investigation, and the notification of families," Howell said.

"It's a nightmare to respond to one of these - logistically and emotionally. You can't prevent it unless you're tipped off. That's why we have to remain vigilant and stay as ready as we can."

Howell said every officer from Sheriff Ron Pierini to the newest recruit, undergoes formal active gunman training, teaching personnel how to respond to a school tragedy.

The most recent training was at Carson Valley Middle School in 2010 during summer vacation when deputies took over the middle with the assistance of school district personnel.

"We do it just to make sure the department is all on the same page with our tactical response. The most important thing is to get there and interrupt the gunman," Howell said.

In addition to the families of the Connecticut victims, Howell expressed concern for the law enforcement and emergency personnel who responded to the school.

"It's tough. Most officers are going to do their jobs. We've all been there in some form or other, and you put on your work hat," he said.

Howell said departments have established protocols to help personnel deal with the tragedy.

"We've learned the quicker you can get somebody to debriefing after such a mass casualty, the less chance there is of them being so exposed to high stress and trauma," Howell said.

Acknowledging the argument that has already been voiced over gun control, Howell said now isn't the time for the debate.

"I think today is not the day to enter into policy debates on causation and prevention factors. If there was a situation where the perpetrator had access to weapons they shouldn't have, you have to look at that and take adequate remedies," he said.

Howell said the push for information in the immediacy of the tragedy "comes with a lot of speculation and 'fill-in-the-blanks.'"

"I think it's premature and disrespectful to the victims and the truth to get into policy debates today. There should be a lot of support and love to the families who lost their children. Let the police do their jobs, and have the debate when we have all the facts," the undersheriff said.

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The Record Courier Updated Dec 17, 2012 10:54AM Published Dec 14, 2012 06:33PM Copyright 2012 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.