by Merrick Parnell
Whatcom Community College has a new clientele using its campus: when the students go home the SWAT team comes in. This year, Whatcom has opened up the campus doors to allow the Bellingham Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and other law enforcement personnel to conduct drills inside the campus buildings.
SWAT teams are an elite group within a police department. They are trained to respond and handle high-risk situations that might be too dangerous for other officers. They often respond to hostage situations, counter terrorism, serving and arresting high-risk individuals, and handling situations with heavily armed gunmen. The SWAT team typically uses different weapons than other police officers. They wield sub-machine guns, assault riffles, sniper rifles and shot guns, which they also use when training.
“Tactical training is conducted inside a selected building with minimal outdoor activity” said Brian Keeley, director of facilities. He also noted that every building is covered in the training, which helps the SWAT personnel familiarize themselves with the campus, in order to act affectively in a situation. Actors are used to help make a situation as real as possible. Before the drills, Whatcom’s staff and faculty, are notified in advance, of the exercise, so they do not interfere with the drills.
In addition to the Bellingham SWAT, The Sherriff and Bellingham Police Department do exercises with training members of the K-9 Units. The Bellingham Fire Department also participates in tours, to familiarize firefighters with the aspects of the buildings.
The SWAT team selects a different building for each drill and conducts drills between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. The SWAT team started training at Whatcom during fall quarter, with four different drills. So far during the winter quarter they have done five. They have also trained on other local educational campuses ranging from kindergartens to high Schools and universities.
Before the drills, Whatcom’s staff and faculty are notified in advance, of the exercise, so they do not interfere with the drills. The college does not charge for the use of the buildings.
“The benefit to the college is familiarizing our local first responders with our campus and buildings,” Keeley said “This could have great value should we ever need their help.”