Active-shooter incidents happen anywhere at any time, so police in Northwest Indiana are doing all they can to prepare themselves and the public to deal with it if it happens here.
"I don't know of any police officer that doesn't come to work every day prepared for an active-shooter situation," said Bob Byrd, police chief of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District's Transit Police and head of the Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force.
"There are two components, international terrorists as well as domestic incidents. Everybody in law enforcement is working on it based on good intelligence information.
"Nobody knows when or where it's going to happen," Byrd said.
"It's happening in shopping centers, work places, schools, churches, theaters. How do we change that culture to do away with that?
"It comes down to the easy accessibility of guns."
Schools used to practice fire drills. Now they all do active-shooter drills. Byrd said NICTD conducts training twice a year for emergency responders to deal with an active shooter on a passenger train.
Fire departments and police learn how to open doors and rescue passengers while SWAT teams learn how to enter and take control of barricaded gunman or hostage situations.
"If there is a terrorism event, the FBI takes the lead because of their expertise and resources," Byrd said.
"In any situation we don't hesitate to call them immediately. If there is a major event like (Orlando) in Northwest Indiana, the major crimes task force will be there to assist."
One of the unknowns is the possible presence of secondary devices that could injure or kill first responders, such as explosive devices in backpacks. Byrd said residents need to educate themselves by going to the Department of Homeland Security website, which has a variety of videos to help different groups, from the public and law enforcement to churches and businesses, prepare.
Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds said the concentration for the past six months has been on making Porter County's schools safe. Assisting in that effort are two cellphone apps. One is HERO911, which is free to all law enforcement officers and notifies them whenever there is an active shooter situation anywhere in the area, especially at a location that has signed onto the GUARD911 app.
The GUARD911 app can be purchased by schools, churches, hospitals or other locations such as YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs or businesses. When activated, it speed-dials the area dispatch center, alerts all users in the building of the threat as well as notifying other GUARD911 users in the area, and sends an alert to the HERO911 network for any law enforcement officers in the area to respond.
"The one thing we've learned is we can't prevent a tragedy like this, but we can work on reducing the response time," Reynolds said.
"After we did the research and thought this is what we should do, we went to the school systems, and they all agreed to do it."
The GUARD911 has a $1,000 registration fee and an annual $100 fee. Reynolds said Valparaiso paid the signup fee for the 16 public and private schools in the city. Reynolds said, so far, more law enforcement officers have downloaded the HERO911 app than there are police officers in the county because of all the other agencies that have gotten involved.
All of Porter County's public schools are on the GUARD911 system, including an elementary school in The Pines that is part of the Michigan City school system. Reynolds said he still is reaching out to private schools to sign them up as well.
Reynolds said the schools' plans for dealing with emergency situations were reduced to one page and then a poster with instructions on what to do during lockdowns, weather alerts, evacuations, bomb scares, active shooter or other emergencies. He's now preparing to shoot a video demonstrating the poster's actions for active shooter and assailant incidents.
"We will shoot that in July in Portage, Valparaiso, Wheeler and Boone Grove schools," he said.
"Every high school in the area will be shown in the video as will all the law enforcement agencies. We got a price tag on it and asked the schools to offset some of the costs. We also asked the executive board of HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) to help."
He hopes to have the video completed by the end of August, and it will be used to train police, teachers, students and staff.
As Munster just did, Porter County will hold a workplace violence preparedness seminar July 29 at Portage High School auditorium. Registration is $10 and begins at 7:30 a.m., and the seminar goes until 3:30 p.m. with nationally recognized experts in the field workplace violence. The money will go toward the Porter County Safe School Commission.
"One thing that was so encouraging when we first sat down to discuss all this was the cooperation from the schools and police," Reynolds said. "We all knew where we wanted to end up, but we didn't know how to get there.
"Teachers need to know what the police are going to do, and police need to know what is going on in the schools. That's why we've accomplished so much so fast. They were all willing to work together to make sure everyone was safe."