By Brian Livingston / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Cindy Searcy is a trooper for the Mississippi Highway Patrol's Troop G headquartered in Starkville and she knows a little about providing security for dignitaries and public officials after being on three security details for Mississippi's First Lady, Deborah Bryant.
But the training she is receiving at the Meridian/Lauderdale County Public Safety Training Facility on Sandflat Road is opening her eyes to the details it takes to successfully provide protection to VIPs.
"Whenever we go on a detail we are briefed on who we are escorting, where they need to go and what we should expect in the terms of people," said Searcy during a lull last Thursday in training. "But the fact is although we train for every scenario, we can't cover absolutely everything because we are dealing with people and their unpredictability. These scenarios in this training are as close to real as they can be so in that respect we are learning a great deal."
The program, Executive Protection Classes, was written and submitted by Mike Street with the city of Meridian's Department of Public Safety and Training at the Meridian /Lauderdale County Public Training Safety Facility. Street was successful in getting the approval for the program by the state's Department of Homeland Security.
"This is a program that offers a diversified subject matter on providing safety for officials who need escort and protection while visiting a location," Street said. "The bonus is we get to host the training, which will bring scores of officers to our area over the next three weeks."
Those officers include Sean Goforth of the Hinds County Sheriff's Department.
Goforth acknowledged because the world is imperfect measures to protect dignitaries against possible attacks is a fact of life.
"The bad guys are always changing their tactics and that is why training like this is so important," Goforth said. "The environment is constantly changing so we have to be prepared for that."
More than 100 officers from across the state will take part in the program, which will cover basic and advanced training in providing close security measures for executive officials. The training also includes the transport of VIPs and how to effectively cover areas officials may visit. Another main point of the training addresses how to counteract hostile actions.
The program is paid by a $90,000 grant through the Department of Homeland Security.
Searcy said whenever she is on a security detail the basics learned in law enforcement academy come rushing back. She said training such as is being instructed this week only goes to solidify those lessons and bolster the effectiveness of officers in the field.
"You have to keep your head on a swivel and be ready for anything," Searcy said. "We go over the details here so we can be even more effective than before in protecting someone."
But the fact is it is the bad guy, the shooter in many instances, has the advantage. Where the person with bad intent is proactive, the members of the security detail are left with being reactive.
Even those with the highest level of security can be vulnerable.
President Ronald Reagan was shot on Monday, March 30, 1981, while leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Reagan and three others were shot and wounded by John Hinckley, Jr. And even though Reagan was surrounded by Secret Service men and local law enforcement, Hinckley was still able to get off several shots that injured the president and several others.
Street said as with any shooting incident, lessons were learned from the Reagan assassination attempt, and those lessons were applied to existing training programs.
"These officers already know a great deal about security issues but we will be more specific in our training to go a little deeper into the subject matter," Street said. "Of course, some of the techniques and tactics we will show them is best left unsaid so as not to give anyone out in the public any ideas on how to counteract what we are teaching."
Street, who will also be the main instructor for the classes, said other representatives with the Department of Homeland Security will be on hand to help facilitate certain aspects of the training. During training scenarios Thursday the instructors stressed to the officers the importance of implementing what they have learned in the classroom setting to the outside world.
In addition to honing officers skills, there are other benefits.
Tim Miller, chief financial officer for the city of Meridian, said the officers visiting from out of town will spend money locally.
"For two more weeks this training will be conducted at the training facility so that will be money spent in Meridian because we use local food vendors to feed the officers, they have to stay in our hotels and so forth," said Miller.
The training also explodes the training facility to outside law enforcement agencies.
"We have a small staff but they are really good at what they do," Miller said. "Each one has their area of expertise and like this training, instructors from other agencies come in to conduct the classes."
The sprawling facility can accommodate a wide variety of training activities, ranging from sniper training to volunteer firefighter exercises. There are shooting ranges, a live fire shooting house, complete with a camera system to evaluate scenarios, a fire tower and a collapsed building training area for confined space rescues. The facility also includes a derailed-train yard to practice train accidents, and large tracks of wooded land where exercises are held to simulate a search for a person missing in the wild. Miller said the facility has something going on all year.
As Searcy and Goforth watched as the next group goes through their training, instructors critiqued the last training cycle.
"You don't want to be on the security detail that something bad happens," Searcy said. "You want everyone to be safe and the detail to go off without a hitch."