SWAT team prepares for the worst at Olympic View

Washington State Patrol troopers practiced drills at Olympic View Elementary school Wednesday during SWAT team training. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Washington State Patrol troopers practiced drills at Olympic View Elementary school Wednesday during SWAT team training.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

Four disgruntled military veterans took over Olympic View Elementary School Wednesday, taking school staff hostage in the morning hours before students arrived.

That was the scenario faced by almost three dozen personnel participating in a Washington State Patrol SWAT team drill at the vacant school scheduled for demolition early next month.

After tensions had ended, a SWAT team leader was ready to call the drill a success.

“We got all four terrorists,” said Sgt. Dave Browne, who helped to devise the scenario. “One of them hid themselves very well, but we eventually got them.”

In the drill, two school employees escaped from the rear of the building and told an administrator what was taking place, said Lt. Kevin Zeller, charged with heading the SWAT crisis negotiation team. The administrator informed police.

“As you get that information, you have to figure out how you’re gonna handle it,” Zeller said. “First, you try to build a repore with the guy, try to get him to release some hostages and eventually give up.”

SWAT is prepared to negotiate for as long as it takes, hours or even days, Zeller said, with the top priority being to keep hostages safe.

For the purposes of this drill, the armed men threatened to begin killing hostages, forcing SWAT to enter the building.

Some of the tools at the team’s disposal in such a scenario include distraction devices, which make loud noises and smoke, drawing a suspect’s attention for just seconds, all SWAT needs in order to be able to gain the element of surprise. Charges were used to blow doors off their hinges and a softball-sized camera was tested out, providing a 360-degree view of surroundings and infrared in a darkened setting, monitored by a trooper with a handheld screen.

King County Sheriff’s deputies were on-hand to witness the drill and assess new technology such as the camera.

Officers use their regular tactical weapons for the drill but have bullets with paintball tips to indicate a hit. Earplugs and safety glasses are issued to lessen the noise and provide protection when the explosives are deployed.

Zeller welcomed the opportunity to hold the drill in a real school building.

“It’s not every day you get a school like this where you can actively train. We’re very thankful to the Bremerton School District,” he said. “Ever since Columbine, there’s been the development of the active-shooter response. You’ve got to prepare for every situation. When something like Columbine happens, that brings this to the forefront.”

The drill is one of two a month in which team members from across the state take part. A handful of SWAT personnel are from the Kitsap area. In 2005, SWAT responded to six calls in Kitsap County.

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