Moments after the go-ahead came across a hand-held radio, a young man in black crept up the stairs to the Kenai Peninsula Borough building with a bright blue fake gun clutched in his hand.
The active shooter scenario carried out in Soldotna on Thursday was part of this year’s Alaska Shield exercise. From a simulated cold snap in 2012 to an earthquake scenario in 2014, each Shield exercise is different.
Agencies from the Alaska Army National Guard and the Alaska State Troopers to the Soldotna Police Department and Community Emergency Response Team volunteers are involved in this year’s drills. Each agency has a role to fill throughout the two-day exercise. On Thursday, the Soldotna Police Department, Alaska State Troopers and Central Emergency Services responded to an active shooter simulation at the borough building. In the scenario, one shooter, played by Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik’s son, Koebryn, entered the building followed by officers from Soldotna Police and the troopers.
As soon as the threat had been eliminated and the building cleared, Central Emergency Services entered and transported three volunteers playing injured victims out on stretchers.
During an active shooter event, police protocol is to take the most direct path to the shooter based on a given location or other information, such as the sound of gunshots, Mlynarik said.
“So we’ll bypass everything else, unless it’s a threat or something,” he said. “But if there’s any victims laying down or anything like that, we’re going to get to the shooter. The reason for that is to preclude anybody else from getting killed.”
This year’s scenario was designed so that the simulated shooter would exchange gunfire with the responding officers, Mlynarik said, as is likely to happen during real life incidents. He said officers completed the drill well and that the shooter in the scenario was killed. One of the biggest things Alaska Shield organizers looked forward to this year was testing the borough departments’ Continuity of Operations Plans, or COOP.
“COOP is a plan that each department has,” said Public Information Officer Brenda Ahlberg, explaining that it allows employees to continue department functions even outside their normal offices or environment in the event of an emergency, like Thursday’s simulated active shooter.
“And the finance department, they’re actually going to physically relocate a portion of finance to Skyview (Middle School) and they’re going to try to recreate the ability to do … general functions,” she said.
While the plans have been in place, they have not been tested before by an Alaska Shield scenario, said Office of Emergency Management Director Scott Walden.
“This has given us an opportunity to put those plans into practice,” he said.
Now, administration will be able to see what works and what needs work, and will be able to make them stronger from here on out. After the active shooter drill on Thursday, Walden said the majority of the cyber security and other exercises had gone well. He said a few areas to change in the Continuity of Operations Plans were identified, as well as some areas of employee training that could be built upon.
For the most part, though, Walden said cross communication between agencies like the Nikiski Fire Department, the Kenai Peninsula School District, law enforcement and the borough went smoothly.
Borough and school district employees were trained according to A.L.I.C.E., a protocol followed and taught by the school district that stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. Pegge Erkeneff, spokesperson for the school district, said the district is in its second year of using the protocol as a way to teach staff and students more options of how to react in an emergency besides locking down in a classroom. The program is adapted to be age appropriate for young students, so when it is taught to adults, like borough staff, no one has a problem learning the concepts, she said.
“It’s really helpful to have that broaden,” Erkeneff said of bringing the training to the borough.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.