First responders prepare for a mass shooting scenario in rural communities

There may only be one or two officers responding, compared to five or ten in a bigger community.

As part of the training exercise, a person acted as a mass shooter, firing blanks at students and teachers in a building on the Mayville State University campus.
Matt Henson / WDAY-TV
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MAYVILLE, N.D. — A training drill for mass shootings was held on the Mayville State University campus Wednesday, March 9.

In the scenario, a person played the role of a gunman. As part of the exercise, they walked through a building on the campus, shooting students and teachers at random before being shot by a deputy.

"It's as important, if not more important, that the rural areas practice this," said Derek Hanson, the president of Heartland Consulting.

The Traill, Steele and Griggs County Sheriff's offices all participated in the training. Combined, they have 15 deputies. Most of them are not working at the same time.

A deputy from a neighboring county, or maybe the local game warden, could be the closest. A SWAT team is at least an hour away.


"Much of it is similar as far as how they would come in and approach the scene and what they would do," Hanson said. "There just may be one officer or two going in, where in a larger city you could have 5 or 10."

"We have to fill that gap, we have to do what we have to do in the meantime and every minute we wait more people are getting injured or killed, so it's very important that we know what to do and how to do it," said Traill County Sheriff Steve Hunt.

This is the first time the local sheriff's offices, along with local fire departments, EMTs and local small-town hospitals all practiced together in five years.

"Not only do tactics and the things we do change, but the way the suspects do things change, and we have continuously new people coming in to the career fields," said Hunt.

Overall, both the consulting group and sheriff were "impressed" with the drill.

"We did some things very well, and there are some things we learned we want to work on," said Hunt.

A final report of went well and what needs to be improved will be given to all the participants in two to three weeks.

According to the Mass Shooting Tracker Project, there were nearly 700 mass shootings across the U.S. last year. More than 700 people were killed, and 2,800 were hurt.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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