The March 13 apartment fire in Herkimer County that quickly escalated to six people being shot - four fatally - prompted Mohawk and Herkimer to put their emergency plans into action.
While the plans don't specifically address mass shootings, they do outline a chain of command and responsibilities, which were applied that day, officials said.
It began with a fire in an apartment building and quickly escalated to six people gunned down — four fatally — prompting Mohawk and Herkimer to put their emergency plans into action.
Shooter Kurt Myers was shot dead by police nearly 24 hours later through the efforts of local, state and federal officials working together, partly as a result of those plans.
The emergency plans for the villages and for Herkimer County can be applied to many situations — blizzards, floods, massive fires.
They don’t include mass shootings as a significant hazard. Yet the plan — which outlines the chain of command and responsibilities — was applied during the shooting rampage March 13.
Mohawk and Herkimer police Chief Joseph Malone said there’s really no way anyone could have prepared for the events of last month.
“I think that even if we had planned and trained, I don’t think it would have gone any better than it did,” he said. “Everything just flowed seamlessly.”
Rick Mathews, director of the National Center for Security Preparedness at the University of Albany, said “it’s not a clear cut, one size fits all.”
He said the procedure followed during the Herkimer County shooting was noteworthy.
“What happened in Herkimer is an example, in my mind, of a good interagency operation,” Mathews said. “Overall, the community worked well together.”
The tragedy also has officials planning for the future.
“We want to make sure that everything is done the right way,” Herkimer Mayor Mark Ainsworth said. “That’s all being talked about and looked at again.”
Preparing for worst
Emergency plans typically don’t have specifics for each incident, Mathews said, so it’s important to have the proper training — primarily interagency training.
Since the December Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, he said quite a few organizations have opted to train for what to do if there is a shooter in a building.
Malone said local law enforcement regularly train together and have attended different trainings, but he has not had specific training for shooters in buildings.
Mohawk Mayor Jim Baron said the Village Board is entertaining the idea of purchasing more security cameras and identification cards, but also reflected on the efficient and effective group that organized March 13.
“In the face of such an ugly thing, we could pull together such an incredible group of resources,” he said.
It is these types of incidents that allow agencies to discuss how they can strengthen communication, said Doug Ireland, the division fire chief for Littleton, Colo., who was involved in the Columbine shooting in 1999.
“Some of the things we learned from it is law enforcement and fire need to communicate and work closer together,” he said. “We work with a lot of different jurisdictions. It was hard trying to facilitate those open lines of communication.”
Page 2 of 2 - Community preparation
Typically, the comprehensive emergency plan comes into play with flooding or a blizzard causing hazardous conditions.
Baron said Mohawk implemented its Nixle System to text those who signed up, informing them of the shooting incident.
“Whenever there is something the entire village needs to hear, we utilize that,” he said.
While the messages are generic, Baron said the text that was sent March 13 alerted people of the incident, urged them to stay in their homes and to limit travel.
While officials said they oftentimes rely on the local media to get information to residents, Mathews said notification typically is done on a case-by-case basis depending on the incident.
“If people rapidly evacuate when you have a guy bent on killing a lot of people, when they leave their buildings, they become easy targets,” he said. If it’s done based on the circumstances, “it controls panic and fear too.”
Residents also should be aware of their community’s plan so they know what to expect, Mathews said, and training can be incorporated.
“That is something all communities should do,” he said.