By Brandi Makuski
Gunmen have infiltrated the courthouse; the mayor is caught in the cross-hairs, there is an unknown number of wounded and a judge has been shot.
It’s a scenario that hasn’t happened in Stevens Point, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility- and it’s one for which the Portage Co. Special Response Team (SRT) must be ready.
Wednesday’s training exercise supposed that initially, court security officers called in a report of at least one gunman darting into a courtroom, with one officer having been shot. But instructors changed the scenario during the exercise to keep the team- comprised entirely of Portage Co. deputies- frosty.
“The team didn’t know how many people they were going to encounter, or where people would be,” said SRT Commander Benjamin Beaudoin.
The drill took place after regular business hours, so many of the offices and conference rooms were dark- another element of confusion which could easily present itself in a real-life emergency, he added.
“The main goal is to test the team’s tactics and communications in trying to clear a building of this size,” said Beaudoin, who’s been in charge of the SRT for the past year but a member of the team for 12. This is the first time he remembers such an exercise for the team being held at the courthouse.
The exercises are sort of like a “chose-your-own-ending story adventure”, he said, where trainers can present the team with unexpected events to see how it reacts. For the drills, teams use plastic weapons and dummies or volunteer actors to portray victims and suspects, but everything else is real- to include radio communication, tactical cameras and other specialized gear.
Beaudoin said the team would run through the drill at least twice on Wednesday, possibly with differing scenarios, but during the first exercise two suspects were “caught” and multiple “wounded” were evacuated from the building.
“We need to see how the team deals with some of the things they encounter while clearing the building, including victims and suspects, and changes in the scenario,” he said, characterizing the first exercise of the night as a “success”.
The team trains on various scenarios multiple times throughout the year, Beaudoin said, and in various locations. Past locations have included the WIAA building in the Portage Co. Business Park and P.J. Jacobs Jr. High.