When it opens in January, the Polk State Center for Public Safety will include a 3,600-square-foot training area, complete with mock storefronts and jail cell, and a movable wall system for creating new, ever more challenging, training scenarios.
The result: A new era of public safety training in Polk County — and likely even beyond.
“The immersive training lab will break new ground in public safety professional education,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. “It is another example of how Polk State College is a state and national leader in providing the highest quality training for emergency responders. The versatility of the immersive training lab will allow for multiple training scenarios to prepare our public safety staff for the challenges and complex situations they will face.”
Polk State Project Engineer Robbie Manikis offered an overview of the two-story immersion lab.
The full-scale, lifelike outdoor street scene, complete with awnings, park benches, lamp posts and crosswalks, will allow for the simulation of urban response scenarios, from vehicle crashes to suspicious packages.
The two-story indoor portion of the lab, meanwhile, has been designed with multiple entry points, including two balconies with roof access — again for the ability to vary training scenarios. The highlight of the indoor lab, however, has to be the wall system. On its website, the system’s manufacturer, Hufcor Inc., explains that walls are suspended from tracks mounted to the ceiling. To recreate virtually any floor plan, from apartments to offices, walls are simply slid into place.
“You can change the whole layout of the room within just minutes,” Manikis said.
In fact, the walls can be moved to mimic the settings of real-life crimes, allowing trainees to prepare for situations they may very well encounter on the job.
Polk County Sheriff’s Capt. Betty Holland, who directs the Polk State Kenneth C. Thompson Institute for Public Safety, added that an intangible advantage of the training lab is the integration it will create among the College’s public safety programs. For instance, during the same active shooter simulation, law enforcement EMS trainees will hone their responses simultaneously.
In total, the Polk State Center for Public Safety will measure 101,450 square feet. Aside from the training lab, it also includes the following:
- 10 standard classrooms
- Three tiered classrooms
- Two computer labs
- Teaching/Learning, Computing Center
- Defensive tactics training space
- Forensics crime scene lab
- Firearms simulation space
- EMS skills lab and simulation training lab
- Fitness center with lockers and showers
- 495-seat auditorium
There is also a physical training course, complete with 16 obstacles.
It is for all these reasons — and the building’s location at 1251 Jim Keene Boulevard in Winter Haven, adjacent to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Operations Center and right in the heart of the state — that Holland expects the Polk State Center for Public Safety will become a regional training hub. For any agency that utilizes the building and its resources, she said, the result will be more highly trained personnel.
“The difference the immersive training lab will have is that the first-responders who train there will receive practical preparation. They will be able to prepare for proper responses and the ethical decision-making they will encounter in day-to-day operations,” she said. “It will provide a ‘real world’ environment and, coupled with cutting-edge technology, allow us to provide the most modern public safety training possible.”
The Polk State Center for Public Safety will house the College’s public safety programs, as well as the CALEA-accredited Polk State Kenneth C. Thompson Institute of Public Safety. The grand opening of the building will take place Jan. 8.