By Janette Dragvold
The week of July 10, 2023, Kingsland Schools in Spring Valley, Minn., served as the scene for active shooter training for the Fillmore County Sheriff’s department. The Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training know as ALERRT, is an FBI sponsored training program out of Texas that is available for law enforcement departments. The program was developed in 2002, after the Columbine school shooting, to train first responders on how to handle active shooter situations. The Minneapolis FBI branch trains officers in ALERRT in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
“In 2002 when we went to that first training, it was an eye opener,” says Fillmore County Sheriff John DeGeorge. “One thing I remember about that training was how uncontrolled it was – the fact that there could be hundreds of students running out of a building. Now every time we train like this we get a little bit more refined in how we respond. We get a little bit better each time.”
The two-day courses began with one day of classroom work where they review active shooter history, and go over active shooter situations. The second day they do practical exercises including a walk-through of different tactics followed by live fire exercises. To make these training scenarios as real as possible, the officers use their own handguns and patrol rifles loaded with simunition. These simulated munitions are special cartridges made up of plastic projectiles filled with colored paint, similar to paint balls, that will mark the body where they hit. This ammunition can be fired from standard caliber handguns and rifles, which helps to make the training much more realistic.
“They hurt so they add a whole new element for us,” explains DeGeorge. “They mark where they were shot and when they “shoot” the bad guy they mark where their shots landed. It’s useful because we train quite often, but it’s not often that we train live scenarios with our real active duty weapons.”
The training situations vary and much of the training is tailored to the area using it. For instance in Fillmore County, there may be one deputy responding right away or there may be three or four deputies responding right away. In towns that have city police, there may be a city police officer, a state patrol unit and one or two sheriff’s deputies.
Sheriff DeGeorge explained that the ALERRT training is mandatory for the Fillmore County Sheriff’s department. Every deputy, investigator and administrator, including Sheriff DeGeorge himself is required to attend. They also invite all local law enforcement within Fillmore County and extend that invitation out to neighboring sheriff and police departments as well as the state patrol. At past trainings they have had officers from surrounding counties as well as state troopers attend. At the 2023 training at Kingsland school they had 24 officers attend plus 16volunteer fire and EMS first responders from Spring Valley.
“That continuity of training where we are all familiar with the protocol is really important,” says DeGeorge. “As we do these training exercises and move through the live scenarios we’re teaming up. It’s not everybody on their own, so if three different people from three different organizations roll in here we know what to do.”
Four FBI ALERRT instructors from the Minneapolis office were on hand as instructors for the training. Research is done on all active shooter cases so that law enforcement agencies like the FBI and the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Department have the most up-to-date tactics.
“The tactics come from the FBI but everything that propels us on what we are teaching has evolved completely,” explains an FBI Special Agent. “This used to be a course that just stops the killing, and now we also include stop the dying. There’s a large medical piece to train our officers and our first responders to triage people inside the school and get them to a trauma center. A lot of times that’s going to be on the spot for our officers, so we’ve added that as well.”
The ALERRT instructors recommend training updates every one to two years. Fillmore County’s last training was in Rushford-Peterson schools in 2019. The sheriff’s department tried to schedule training last year, but DeGeorge explained that the FBI ALERRT program gets booked up quite quickly. They typically offer eight to 12 two-day courses per year and these courses are free for law enforcement.
“For us it’s really great because they bring some very high level instructors who are very experienced,” says DeGeorge. “They bring all of the equipment that we use to train, other than our own duty gear. The fact that they do it at no cost for us is a huge bonus because if we were to have to pay to send our people somewhere we could never afford to do this.”
Superintendent of Kingsland schools Scott Klavetter was on hand during the ALERRT training. Kingsland schools currently uses the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) program for it’s staff and students. This training focuses on learning about options and how to respond based on these options. The school system has required evacuation drills but those drills are very different from what the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Department was doing.
“We practice throughout the year,” explains superintendent Klavetter, “but we do it in a much less real situation because we also have to balance, especially here at a preK-12 school, having kids prepared but also not scaring kids.”
Most ALERRT training scenarios are done in schools, but they also train in churches, stores, offices and any other areas where active shooter scenarios could and have happened.
“We love to train in schools here in the summer times. That’s where we get most of our requests,” explained an FBI Special Agent. “Training in the environment they are going to be operating in really is key for us. It puts them in the mindset to train. It becomes real to them. These officers went to that school or have kids in that school. They are going to be possibly responding to this school one day so training officers in that environment is really important.”
Aside from ALERRT for law enforcement, the FBI also has a two hour training class for civilians called ASAP (Active Shooter Awareness and Preparedness).