Not many neighborhoods are built expecting trouble. Unless, of course, that neighborhood is a mock village constructed expressly to give future and current public safety officers a place to train for the kinds of dangerous scenarios that can happen, expected or not.
“River City,” aptly named after the song in the “Music Man” that declares there’s always trouble there, is one important component of Fox Valley Technical College’s new Public Safety Training Center, a project that’s well under way on Outagamie County Regional Airport property.
River City itself includes a drive-up bank branch, a gas station/convenience store, a hotel/motel with a bar, and two residences. There also will be a forced-entry building, allowing SWAT officers to practice “dynamic entry.” That building will include partitions inside to allow officers practice clearing a room, and those partitions will be built by FVTC construction students, says Patricia Robinson, executive dean of the college’s public safety division. The training center will include classrooms, numerous instruction areas, a number of firing ranges and an emergency vehicle driving range.
The facility also will include an outdoor forensic laboratory, a.k.a. a “body farm.”
“It is essentially a research facility as well as a training facility,” Robinson says. “One of the things that happens when things decay is bugs come in – blowflies and other such things – and they do so in quite specific ways, and quite specific time frames, in terms of generations. So a death investigator or medical examiner can actually look at what they find and tell something about the time of death.”
They also can tell something about where a person died because insects can be highly localized, she says.
“If, for example, you have someone who is murdered in one location and the body moved to a different location, you may actually be able to tell from the critters whether the body had been moved,” Robinson says.
Additionally, as bodies decay, particularly in shallow graves, it changes the composition of the soil and different kinds of vegetation may grow in the area.
While the use of human cadavers is possible, it’s not something FVTC officials have even begun to discuss and would need to go through all of the appropriate legal and institutional processes before it could happen. Right now, the plans are for the body farm to use pig carcasses, which act in a physiologically similar way to human bodies. In any case, the body farm will be secured by high fences and screened from view to help prevent curiosity-seekers and teenaged Halloween adventurers.
FVTC’s body farm will be special because of its location. There are two or three other research body farms in the United States, but the FVTC lab is the only one in a cold climate.
“That makes a difference,” Robinson says. “That makes a difference in how quickly things skeletonize, and it makes a difference in the insects that are around and awake and not dead, because it’s 20 below zero. So we believe that we will be able to attract some scientific research interest in this facility simply because we have an environment that the other ones don’t.”
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson says that’s why the Public Safety Training Center as a whole – added to other related regional powerhouses such as Pierce Manufacturing – will be good for both the college and the local economy. As visitors arrive, they stay in area hotels and eat in area restaurants.
“Anything within the realm of public safety is a big part of our region’s economic portfolio,” Nelson says.
The projected ongoing annual impact from the completed Public Safety Training Center is expected to be $11.9 million, Robinson says.
Greg Peterson, Grand Chute Police Chief, says in addition to attracting visitors, the facility will be a boon to local law enforcement agencies.
“We’re excited on a couple of fronts with respect to the training center,” Peterson says. “One is of course that the technical college has long brought in high-quality training that’s been made available to everybody in the area and beyond, and we’ve taken great advantage of that over the years. We believe that with a facility of this type, that’s only going to get better.”
By state law, the department must complete a certain amount of emergency vehicle driving training, and previously had to either find vacant parking lots or, more recently, has leased the racetrack in Kaukauna, Peterson says.
“There are certain things that we need to do on a regular basis in the field with regard to maintaining our proficiencies and our certifications, and some of those things are challenging because we don’t have adequate facilities to do that type of training,” Peterson says.
The department also wants to train for various indoor scenarios and has had to find closed school buildings or train at the Fox River Mall after hours. The new simulated village will open up more of those possibilities.
The location of the facility itself, on the grounds of the Outagamie County Regional Airport, makes it both conducive to certain activities such as firearms training, which can be noisy for residential areas, and burn training, which can get smoky, of course.
“We couldn’t have found a more perfect site than we got, had we had all the money in the world to go buy something,” Robinson says.
ON THE WEB
FVTC referendum project progress
As of January, Fox Valley Technical College has made significant progress on its $66.5 million public referendum expansion project that was approved in April 2012. Here’s what’s happened so far:
» Expansion of the now-named Service Motor Company Agriculture Center: Opened in August
» The newly-constructed Health Simulation & Technology Center: Opened in August
» Expansion of the J. J. Keller Transportation Center: Opened in January
» Opening of the new Student Success Center: To open in August
» Opening of the new Public Safety Training Center at the Outagamie County Regional Airport: To be fully operational in January 2015; partial operation may be sooner