In August, the Altoona Area School District hosted a full-scale "active shooter" exercise on Sixth and Seventh avenues to gauge how police could handle a tragedy such as the one that played out Friday in Connecticut.
With as much realism as possible, Altoona and Logan Township police, along with the Altoona Fire Department, AMED and local emergency management agencies carried out the exercise to learn what they could do better.
"We have prepared for an eventuality like that, based on lessons learned at Columbine," Altoona police Lt. Jeffrey Pratt said, referencing the 1999 school shooting in Littleton, Colo., that claimed the lives of 12 students and a teacher.
Most police departments now train officers on how to respond to an active shooter situation at a school, Pratt said. The goal of police is to get inside and neutralize the threat as opposed to the pre-Columbine protocol of securing the scene and awaiting back-up, he said.
"What we're seeing, [these shooters] want to amass as much of a body count as they can in a short period of time," Pratt said.
Logan Township Police Chief Ron Heller said the department's SWAT team has trained with the Montgomery County, Md., SWAT team several times.
Montgomery County officers traveled to Colorado after Columbine to gather information to develop an active shooter plan, one Logan Township bases its own on, and all officers have trained at each of the four schools in the township, Heller said.
It's important for all officers, not just specialized units like SWAT, to know how to respond when confronted with a school shooting., Heller said.
"First responders have to deal with it," he said. "You have to figure that SWAT is a half hour away. That's why we train all officers."
Patrol officers have the proper tactical gear in their vehicles, such as rifles and shields, and stressed time is critical when responding, Heller said.
"There were 1,000 first responders on scene [at Columbine] and they didn't make entry into the school for at least 40 minutes," Heller said. "It was over by then."