The Luzerne County Sheriff’s Department is teaching 1,400 county government employees how to respond if an active shooter enters their building — training that eventually will be available to the general public, officials said Friday.
The two-hour employee sessions scheduled through August focus on national standards to run and escape, to hide if fleeing isn’t possible, and to fight as a last resort, said county Sheriff Brian Szumski.
“Complacency is the worst thing, and we’re just trying to make sure everyone is aware of possibilities and prepared,” Szumski said.
County officials have beefed up security screening and protection at county buildings, in part due to a March 2017 firebombing at the county Children and Youth offices on Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilkes-Barre. The fire damaged the building but was quickly extinguished without injuries.
Last month’s courthouse bomb scare — no bomb was found — prompted the sheriff’s department to develop the new training, which is mandatory for employees, said county Manager C. David Pedri.
County employees and officials may be more vulnerable because they handle volatile situations involving child support payments and custody, divorces, estates, jail sentences, tax sales plus mortgage foreclosure actions that result in property loss, officials have said.
“Unfortunately in the world we live in today, many types of violent incidents have become far too common,” Pedri said. “This will hopefully give county workers the tools necessary to defend themselves should the unthinkable happen.”
The training will be added to new employee orientation, the sheriff said.
After the mass employee sessions are completed this summer, Szumski wants to open the training to all residents because the strategies can be applied to any location. He urges people to make it a habit to be aware of exits and potential hiding places as they shop, dine out and attend church.
He reminded residents of an October 2015 shooting rampage outside the Walmart in Wilkes-Barre Township. Scott Sargent, of Shenandoah, was sentenced last year to serve 170 to 358 years in prison for the attempted shooting of five police officers.
In a related matter, the transition to armed security guards at county building entrances is in the works, Szumski said.
A new collective bargaining agreement with the union covering guards authorized the requirement for gun training. Under state Act 235, the guards must pass a firearm proficiency test and written exam to be armed, said Szumski.
The county sheriff assumed oversight of security guards in 2016, with a promise of increased safety protocols and training.
Sheriff’s deputies provide security inside courtrooms, while security guards man the entrances to county buildings.
The deputies carry guns and are called to assist and “take whatever action is necessary” to handle incidents that arise at all county security posts, officials have said.
Security guards started carrying pepper spray, expandable batons and handcuffs last year.
Once security guards are armed, sheriff deputies will include them in additional training on handling and using weapons in different scenarios, Szumski said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.