University police stage shooting scenario
April 9, 2008 8:51 AM
As part of emergency preparedness week, university police took over the Student Services building for an hour on Wednesday to stage its first-ever drill for a campus shooting scenario with staff and student participants.
“It’s not something you can choreograph like a fire drill,” said Rita Walsh-Wilson, the emergency preparedness building coordinator for the Student Services building. “Every individual needs to respond to their specific situation.”
This first drill was restricted mostly to participants who were given prior training on how to handle an active shooter event, she said, because appropriate responses in a shooting situation are vastly different from a fire or natural disaster-based emergency.
Literature from the SF State Department of Public Safety advises barricading doors, hiding behind concrete walls or barriers if your route from the building—or away from the shooter—is blocked.
The main training tool was a film distributed by the Center for Personal Protection and Safety called, “Shots Fired—When Lightning Strikes.”
The film “provides the individual employee or student with critical guidance on how to recognize and survive an active shooter situation,” according to CPPS marketing materials.
In April 1999, the phrase “active shooter” entered the educational lexicon when two armed teenagers entered their high school in Columbine, Colo. and killed 12 students and one teacher before turning the guns on themselves.
But the bar for tactics and response to campus shootings was raised in April 2007, when a single assailant succeeded in killing 32 people and wounding 25 others at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. CSU Chancellor Charles Reed responded, in part, by issuing Executive Order 1013, which called for full-scale emergency exercises to be held annually on all CSU campuses.
Police officers blocked the entrance to Student Services by those not involved in the drill starting at 10 a.m. The first “victim”—represented by a paper shooting-range target mounted on cardboard—was dragged from the building by four officers carrying reddish-brown rifles around 10:30 a.m. No live ammunition was used in the drill.
A hand-written note on the silhouette identified the “victim” as a 35-year-old female with gunshot wounds to her left arm and ear. The simulated victim was conscious and breathing. The officers placed “her” in front of the UPD’s mobile command center bus.
The simulated victim was later joined by a similar representation of a 65-year-old woman who was unconscious but breathing, with no visible wounds and wearing a medic-alert bracelet.
Although the time frame of the drill was planned, most people didn’t know what to expect during the actual event.
DeShion Mitchell, who works for the Educational Opportunity Program, was part of the first group to come out of the building, about 10 minutes after what sounded like
As Mitchell exited the building, he practiced what he said was one of the most important things he learned from his active shooter survival training: “How to get out without being shot by police,” he said, laughing as he pantomimed raising his hands slightly above his head with palms out.
Mitchell said the shots sounded like wood planks smacking together, but wasn’t sure how the sound had been generated and didn’t see any “shooters” before he was escorted from the building by officers.
Loan Nguyen, a financial aid officer, appeared nervous as she stood outside Student Services after the drill. When a maintenance vehicle backfired, she jumped and her hands clutched her neck. But Nquyen said she was glad for the opportunity to participate.
“It was a little scary,” she said. “But I wanted to know, at that moment, how I was going to react.”
Nguyen felt she was successful during the drill. She opted to take shelter under a desk where she was able to see without being seen. She said a group of three shooters passed her by without seeing or hearing her.
Nguyen said the training was helpful and had given her guidance on how to react, including not gathering with other people in an easy-to-target group.
University Police Chief Kirk Gaston and SF State’s emergency preparedness coordinator Gayle Orr-Smith were on site for the drill.
Orr-Smith said maintaining a “survival mindset” can be crucial in an active shooter crisis, adding it’s important not to give in to despair.
“Never count yourself out,” she said. “Not as long as you’re breathing.”
Orr-Smith’s first advice is to avoid being an available target, that getting away or hiding out should be the first priority.
But if you find yourself trapped and confronted, she added, you may want to fight back.
“It’s one gun,” she said. “One bullet.” Attempting to disable the assailant with a book or a chair might buy time or save your life, Orr-Smith said.
She acknowledged that campus shootings are a sensitive subject. Many people would prefer not to think about the issue at all, but preparation and honesty are key.
Ultimately, Orr-Smith said, the police response to an active shooter crisis is only part of the answer.
“Thirty thousand people on this campus need to take care of themselves as individuals,” she said.
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