In case of emergency

August 5, 2018

More and more Columbus area businesses in recent years have talked with their staffs about what can be done if an active shooter is ever on the premises, much to the liking of local law enforcement.

“It’s always better to have a plan than to not have a plan,” Columbus Police Capt. Todd Thalken said, noting people have to choose between running, fighting or hiding if they find themselves in such a scenario. “Knowing your options and planning for each of those options really makes you more effective.”

Columbus Police, according to Thalken, have had officers such as Sgt. Brad Wangler before he suffered injuries in a June incident speak on active shooter situations at places like the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and Columbus Community Hospital. Platte County Sheriff Ed Wemhoff said he and his deputies have also gone to local locations to speak on the subject.

“Training like this helps people be more conscious and aware if something happens, and if it doesn’t, you’re out nothing,” Wemhoff said. “We’ve met with a few businesses. Every business has to decide on their own what their best action plan is. Every business is set up differently, so what their plan is has to be a direct response to how their business is set up, whether it be office locations or points of entry.”

The Columbus Police, Platte County Sheriff’s Office and Nebraska State Patrol were invited to observe and help oversee such training at Nebraska Public Power District, 1414 15th St. in Columbus, this week. NPPD, the largest electric utility in the state of Nebraska with offices around the state, has a security operations center in Columbus that monitors dozens of its locations.

And though mass shootings have become more common around the country in recent years, NPPD’s active shooter training isn’t something new to the business. Corporate Security Manager Don Thorson was one of many officials on site Wednesday at the local office reiterating the company’s priority is its employees’ safety. Part of that, he said, is evident by the company holding various safety training sessions, such as the active shooter drill, multiple times annually for many years.

The latest session in Columbus saw a corporate official wearing a hard hat equipped with a GoPro camera walk through numerous floors of the building and simulate an active threat by holding up a yellow rubber gun and blowing a whistle to serve as a substitute for the sound of a gunshot. The hard hat and camera aren’t what one would think about during a real emergency, but both played important roles.

“That way we have video to reinforce the learning people get out of it,” said Patrick D. Glunz, NPPD CIP operations and business continuity manager. “It makes for good debrief and training purposes after the fact.”

Employees had to choose to exit the building or hide when they became aware of the active shooter on Wednesday; fighting was looked over since it was a training exercise.

“What I saw was good,” the sheriff said. “The fact that they are taking these steps and have these plans and procedures, and are actually taking the next step to actually do something is good. To see them take those steps is encouraging and an excellent step for their employees’ safety.”

Employees were notified of the training ahead of time, though did not know when exactly it would take place.

Forcing yourself to think about being in a life-threatening situation ultimately helps someone if and when such an event comes about, according to Thalken.

“If you have a plan, you’re always going to react faster,” Thalken said, adding he encourages people to identify exit areas and potentially good hiding spots.

Fighting off a person who is presenting a threat is also an option, he noted. Thalken said he once heard of a U.S. high school encouraging students to bring cans of soup with them so they could use them to protect themselves in a potentially-dangerous situation. That plan, while unconventional, intrigued the police captain because it’s proactive instead of reactive.

NPPD’s exercise was about more than work safety.

“This is really a lifestyle type of training,” Glunz said. “This isn’t just for the office; this is for when you’re at the movie theater, when you’re out to dinner, when you’re at your kids’ sporting events. Be aware of your surroundings; be aware of what you would do in the event of an attack or an active threat of some sort.”

Wemhoff and Thalken praised the company for putting its employees through the exercise.

“I think it’s an excellent example of an entity wanting to stay one step ahead and have their people prepared for an event we pray to God never happens,” Wemhoff said.

He and Thalken said in separate conversations their organizations are happy to come out and speak with people about active shooter situations. CPD can be reached at 402-564-3201. The sheriff’s office is at 402-564-3229.

“That’s what law enforcement is -we always prepare for the worst,” the sheriff said. “We’ll talk to anybody in Platte County. If you’re not sure what to do, please reach out.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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