What if it happened in York County?

John Joyce
  • York County Communications Director Carl Lindquist says dispatchers are trained for mass shootings.
  • York and surrounding counties' law enforcement agencies would converge if a mass shooting took place.

Northern York County Regional Police Chief Mark Bentzel said Monday law enforcement officers across the country are better trained today than at any time in the past to deal with active shooters and mass shootings.

Bentzel's comments come on the heels of Sunday's lone-gunman attack on an Orlando LGBT nightclub in which 50  people were killed and 53 injured in what has become the nation's deadliest mass shooting in history.

Omar Mateen, 29, of Fort Pierce, Florida, entered Pulse Nightclub at about 2 a.m. armed with an AR-15 assault rifle and a 9 mm handgun and opened fire, according to Florida law enforcement. A three-hour standoff ensued before police were able to force their way in. Mateen was killed in an ensuing gun battle with police.

Over the last several years, mass shootings — such as those in Aurora, Colorado, in Newtown, Connecticut, and in San Bernardino, California — have become more common, prompting local governments and law enforcement agencies to conduct joint exercises in preparation to respond to potential active-shooter scenarios in their communities.

"Most, if not all, police departments in York and surrounding counties are preparing and training for these types of events," Bentzel said.

Bentzel said there have been several large-scale exercises conducted both in York and in neighboring counties to train officers on how to respond to an active shooter in highly-populated settings such as schools, businesses, nightclubs and shopping malls. In most cases,patrol officers and not a SWAT team or Quick Response team are the first to respond to such an instance. Regardless of the location of the incident, Bentzel said, the principles are the same.

"We want to get police officers on the scene and stop the killing," he said. "Neutralize the threat."

York County Sheriff Richard Keuerbler said he was reluctant to comment publicly on Sunday's events for fear of inspiring a copycat situation. He did say, however, that he is confident his office is prepared to respond "appropriately" in support of other area law enforcement agencies should a mass shooting occur locally.

He called the events in Orlando "a total tragedy."

Red Land High School holds active shooter drill

The mass shooting on Sunday morning served to remind the nation of how quickly such events can unfold.

Carl Lindquist, York County director of communications, said the county itself does not respond to active shooter or mass shooting scenarios, but it works within its various agencies to prepare for such contingencies.

Police respond to Red Land Senior High School in Fairview Township during an active shooter drill, Friday, April 29, 2016. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

"The immediate response to something like that would fall to law enforcement," he said.

The county's response is twofold, he explained. Dispatchers at the York County 911 center are trained to follow protocols in terms of handling a situation in which people would be calling to report a situation like that, he said.

"Our dispatchers are trained to ask specific types of questions in that type of incident so that they can aid in information gathering as far as what is going on," Lindquist said. "How many shooters there are, the types of weapons, those types of things."

Based on the responses the dispatchers are given, they know which personnel to dispatch, but they would also use the information to then guide the caller to safety or to direct them further.

How would York County law enforcement handle an active-shooter situation?

The first responders to a scene would almost certainly be the local police officers on duty that day, officials have said. Those officers would be tasked with deciding how to enter a building and neutralize a shooter, they said.

One group that would be called in if a mass-casualty incident happened in York County is the York County Quick Response Team, commanded by Springettsbury Township Police Chief Dan Stump.

The QRT is a tactical unit made up of officers from different departments around the county that's called in to deal with high-risk or volatile situations. Stump said the squad is made up of 25 to 30 tactically trained officers, 12 negotiators, and several tactical medics and tech-support personnel.

Officers led by Sgt. Mike Bosco from Newberry Township Police respond to Red Land Senior High School in Fairview Township during an active shooter drill, Friday, April 29, 2016. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

"We are the 911 of police," Stump has said of the QRT team. When the scope or seriousness of a situation is "greater and more dangerous than (local police departments) have protection for, that's where we come in."

QRT would support the local departments with their extra training and resources. The team has access to more weapons and vehicles that might be more suited to combating a heavily armed shooter, Stump said.

Local police have worked with a number of sites in the county on active-shooter drills to give law enforcement and other first responders a chance to practice their techniques while also hoping that practice never turns into a real-life situation. Along with the event at Red Land, large-scale drills have been staged at Central York High School and, most recently, the new emergency room at York Hospital.

Students and teachers run from Red Land Senior High School in Fairview Township during an active shooter drill, Friday, April 29, 2016. 
John A. Pavoncello photo