48 Investigates: Law enforcement readiness for mass shootings

(Source: Raycom Media)
(Source: Raycom Media)
Published: Dec. 10, 2015 at 4:42 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 11, 2015 at 9:43 AM CST
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(WAFF) - It's that "what if" question that everyone is talking about but the last thing anyone wants to think about. Mass shootings, it could happen anywhere, at any time, involving anyone.

Is Tennessee Valley law enforcement ready if it were to happen? However, it already has.

A lot of lessons were learned after February 2010, when Amy Bishop Anderson opened fire on her colleagues in a department meeting at UAH killing 3 and injuring 3 others.

Patients were rushed to the hospital and Anderson was arrested, but there was still a problem.

"It was the lack of inoperability between the radios that the different agencies use," said Madison County 911 Call Center Director Chris Tucker.

Others agreed with Tucker's statement.

"That is true, there were some issues in communication," said Don Webster, HEMSI Director.

Police, fire crews, and ambulances all responded, but they realized they were all trying to communicate on different frequencies.

A problem you don't really pay attention to until you are forced to.

Since, the entire radio frequency system has been upgraded now allowing dispatchers at Madison County's 911 Call Center to get information across easier.

"Since the different agencies can communicate with each other now and so we are much better prepared in that area," added Tucker.

First responders practice active drill response periodically and have to coordinate their efforts, down to how they enter a building.

"What we have to do is be lucky all the time, the terrorists only have to be lucky once. We certainly have to rely on training and equipment," said Dave Jernigan, Madison County Chief Deputy.

Each agency is fighting to get bomb-detecting robots and armored vehicles to use at their disposal even with state and federal funding drying up.

However, concern is still going up which is why police departments like Arab PD have had to acquire their own just in case.

Speaking of funding, it still creates the biggest challenge for law enforcement.

A couple months back, fighting for more funding from the Madison County Commission, Sheriff Blake Dorning made them envision an active shooter situation.

"We have a Walmart Supercenter and we have an active shooter in there on a Saturday afternoon, the most deputies that we would have that could get there within a five minute period, would be maybe four." said Dorning. "As we develop retail space, we understand those become targets."

After his plea, the county commission did approve a salary increase and added two new deputies to the force, but we caught back up with Sheriff Dorning to see if that was enough and if his scenario still rings true today.

"Yes it does, but we have a tremendous working relationship with Huntsville Police Department, we have a working relationship with Madison Police Department, but the Walmart Supercenter is within three miles of the state line, and so in order for us to get that support to our deputies in the field, it would take some time," said Dorning.

In the meantime, all agencies can do is prepare with the personnel and equipment they do have.

"You can't practice too much and unfortunately, I don't see it stopping anytime soon and that's the terrible thing about it," added Webster.

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