Emergency preparedness training must adapt to address the crises of our time. At Depot, the RCMP's training academy in Saskatchewan, Immediate Action Rapid Deployment (IARD) training has been updated to teach officers how to best respond to an armed active threat similar to those faced during the Mayerthorpe, Alta., Moncton, N.B., and La Loche, Alta., shootings. The training puts emphasis on making contact, confronting the threat and subduing it as quickly as possible.
IARD facilitators point out that in 90 per cent of these situations, the active shooter is stopped by a single police officer acting alone because there's no time to wait for backup. As IARD trainee Cst. Joanne Lauer says, "You can't wait. If you don't stop them, who will? You can't spend time thinking about whether or not you can or can't do it. You have a job to do."
IARD training is provided at Depot as part of mandatory one-week training for all RCMP officers. The required training also includes annual firearms qualification, first aid/medical emergency response training, occupational skills maintenance and road-to-mental-readiness training. IARD training is now also included in the cadet training program.
Three days to readiness
Last November, 28 RCMP officers returned to Depot for three days of the intense, hands-on IARD training.
For Lauer, who graduated just over three years ago, she's excited to return. "It's an honour to be here again," she says, "I'm here so that I can be the best police officer I can be for my brothers and sisters back at the detachment, for my family back home, and for my country."
Despite the gravity of what's being taught, the participants exchange lively banter and stories from the field. The light atmosphere is beneficial. Together these men and women will be learning how to act when the unthinkable happens and stop a threat from becoming catastrophic.
The trainees are split into teams and carry out various scenarios, each of which put them under significant stress. As a team, they learn to negotiate the hallways, perform room entries, work with rescue teams and control the space while pursuing the threat.
Armed at first with replica firearms, they build their confidence with the encouragement, guidance and positive feedback from the facilitators. As each scenario progresses, participants work on the areas they need to improve.
By the end of the first day, the trainees have grasped the basics. On the morning of the second day, they are given deactivated firearms with paint ammunition. The scenarios become more realistic.
"During these exercises, the point is to treat every trigger pull like it's a real trigger pull," says Cst. Fred Lillie, a 26-year veteran. "You have to breathe in, go over what you know, think about what you need to do and then do it."
At the end of the second day, most of the facilitators and trainees are covered in paint as they review the best and worst moments of their scenarios.
On the third day, the scenarios become even more complex. But everyone is responding well, cheering each other on and watching intently as their teammates move through the exercises.
The officers on course are evaluated according to their proficiency in the skills learned, the safe use of their firearm, and their ability to continue to communicate clearly while sustaining a high level of stress throughout the scenario.
"Any training is good training and practice makes you confident," says Cst. Anne Daly, an IARD trainee and officer for nine years. "These three days did prepare us to better protect the public from those horrible emergencies that no one really wants to think about. But we have to think about them because that's our job."
Even for facilitators, the training offers a way to stay on top of their skills, and give back.
"You're continuously bettering yourself with the intent of helping people who are going to be in the field," says Cpl. Traci Johnston, an IARD instructor at Depot. Those who have successfully completed the IARD user course and the Public and Police Safety Instructor course are encouraged to seek out opportunities at Depot to become trainers themselves.
After going through her last training scenario, Lauer feels positive: "I'm confident that if something happens in my community, I know I will respond. I'll be ready, and I'm going to win."