A gunman opens fire on students and teachers inside a northeast Iowa school. The incident is fake, but the scenario is a training exercise for police agencies today (Tuesday) in the Waterloo area.

The drill at Waverly – Shell Rock High School coordinated by the Iowa State Patrol is a simulation of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, and trooper John Baber says after that incident, law enforcement changed some methods of responding. He says at the time they weren’t used to dealing with problems that involved a school, and had standard approaches that included tactical teams securing an area, then moving forward in steps to where the problem is.

For a school situation they’ve devised a different approach, aggressively moving right into the problem area. This is the second day different groups of officers have gone through the full-scale training exercise at the Waverly-Shell Rock High School.

Barber says trainers are trying to make the drill as real as possible, and student volunteers are posing as victims. They’re doing difficult things, like walking through it with gas masks on and wearing helmets and riot gear. They’re also setting off “flash-bang grenades” and having the officers work with lots of yelling and screaming going on, to give them a feel for the real conditions they’re likely to be working in.

Baber says the drill is an important training exercise because walking through it improves the way officers respond to a real situation with its distractions and hazards. Those make it more dangerous for the officer, but this teaches them how to do the job more safely, both for officers and for the public.

Baber says parents can feel secure knowing that local and state law enforcement are working together on these drills, “so if something like this would happen, we know how to handle it.”

Today’s drill includes police officers from Evansdale, Janesville, Hampton and Waverly and sheriff’s deputies from Black Hawk and Bremer counties. The state patrol plans about ten more similar drills at other schools around the state this summer.