SANDPOINT — Bonner County sheriff’s officials are putting the finishing touches on a comprehensive response plan for responding to mass shooting incident.
The active shooter response plan contains finely detailed information about the county’s public schools, including aerial photographs, precise locations of entrances, exits and rooms within each facility, and pupil attendance information.
There are also protocols for how law officers would respond to a particular shooting incident, although those details are kept under wraps for obvious reasons.
“We don’t want the bad guys to know that information,” said Sheriff Daryl Wheeler.
Wheeler’s department has been compiling the information for more than a year and a half and the wealth of data is poised to be loaded onto Mobile Data Computers, the durable laptop computers used by deputies in the field.
“We have a program that we’ve set up so all that information is at the deputy’s fingertips,” Wheeler said.
Moreover, deputies will be conducting various kinds of patrols at the schools, including going into them on a weekly basis so they are personally familiar with the facility’s layout and its staff.
The plan’s completion could not come any sooner in light of last December’s deadly elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
Wheeler said he’s been meeting with Lake Pend Oreille and West Bonner County school district officials to foster uniformity in each of the entities’ active shooter response plans.
“We’re not here to tell them, ‘This is what you’re supposed to do.’ It’s just some things for them to consider,” said Wheeler.
But despite all the planning and preparation, Bonner County is simply without the resources to single-handedly respond to a mass-casualty shooting such as the one that occurred in Newtown.
Bonner County will have to rely on resources from surrounding communities, as Newtown was forced to do when the casualties mounted.
“We have a list of resources that we can call on at a moment’s notice to have them respond,” said Wheeler.
Those resources include federal, state and local agencies in surrounding jurisdictions. Wheeler said Schweitzer Mountain Resort has agreed to press its buses into public service if EMS transport capabilities become overwhelmed.
Wheeler said the county is also prepared to respond to assist with a mass-casualty shooting in neighboring rural counties, knowing they are similarly strapped for resources.
“We’re going to be depending on each other when we respond to any kind of critical incident,” he said. “We’re all going to come running to help each other.”
The sheriff’s recent acquisition of a mobile command post will be a useful tool in a mass-casualty incident, but Wheeler concedes his department is lacking a suitable vehicle to insert emergency response team deputies into a scene while taking fire.
The sheriff’s office has a 39-year-old armored vehicle obtained from the U.S. Air Force, but it is slow and too cramped to allow law officers to swiftly exit the rig.
“I’d have to say that that’s the one piece that’s missing,” Wheeler said of an armored vehicle.
The sheriff’s office is considering a long-term lease of a vehicle such as a Lenco BearCat, a next-generation armored response and rescue vehicle.
Deputies are trained in active shooter scenarios every several months.
Wheeler said once the public schools plans are finalized, the sheriff’s office will reach out to private schools, Bonner General Hospital and large-scale employers such as Litehouse Foods and Coldwater Creek.
“We are really setting ourselves up to get prepared as much as possible in case there’s a really critical incident,” said Wheeler.