“Armed Assailant” Disaster Drill educates and prepares Ontario campus
SJVC wants all campuses to be prepared for any kind of disaster that might occur on site. A recent disaster drill on the Ontario campus pushed staff, faculty and student preparedness beyond fire and earthquake emergency response and into another threatening scenario: Active Shooter.
The recent San Bernardino shooting spurred the campus Disaster Drill committee to develop a response protocol for just such an attack.
“What happened in San Bernardino tells us that any campus is vulnerable and that this was right in our neighborhood makes it even more relevant,” says Aurora Gumamit, Registered Nursing Assistant Program Director. “The aim of a shooter is injury and fatalities in multiple numbers and the destruction of property.” The objective of disaster drills is to educate all on campus how they might minimize risk, threat and damage.
That goal is accomplished by three potential actions: run, hide or, if no other option exists, attempt to subdue assailant.
The Disaster Drill committee spent an hour each week for three months developing the shooter exercise that would include student education, evacuation, designated team response, and assailant containment. Committee members were drill participants and representatives from several programs and departments:
- Criminal Justice Program Director Darryl Chestnut: ‘”Armed” response team; Investigators; Assailant
- Respiratory Therapy Clinical Site Director Thomas Serrano: Medical teams; response to victims
- Asst. Nursing Program Director Aurora Gumamit: Triage and treatment teams; victim/shooter make-up; video for debriefing
- Dean of Student Services Henry Madrid: Campus staff/faculty/student communication; Facilitate evacuation
A single shooter equipped with a replica AR-15, tactical gear and a satchel that, although not brought into play, insinuated the possibility of an airborne threat. Shooter would move quickly through the hallways and classrooms, wounding and killing any in his path, while shouting aggressively. The shooter would finally encounter and be stopped by Criminal Justice: Corrections students in a specified location.
Shooter goal: Get to school cafeteria for maximum potential for victims; counter security resistance; evade capture; terrorize and maximize destruction along the way.
Defense and Victim Support
Criminal Justice student volunteers were instructed to seek and engage the shooter, assess the environment and potential for danger, and secure the facility through means determined necessary.
Nursing student volunteers (Medical Assisting and Respiratory Therapy programs) worked during and after the attack to provide medical attention to those victims in need of assistance and prepare those who needed hospitalization for transport.
Some volunteers who were providing medical care would become victims, as well.
Total victims: 4 dead, 12-15 wounded, including 1 psychologically traumatized. Some mannequins were used to simulate deceased victims.
Once a plan outline was in place, student, staff and faculty volunteers were recruited to participate as respondents (medical, evacuation leaders and “armed” security) and victims. The important role of the armed assailant was recruited, and he worked with the committee to plan route, behaviors, threat level and outcome.
College administration notified Business, Medical and Technical program students of the impending disaster drill, but not the exact nature of the threat. Any students who felt uncomfortable participating were allowed to opt out of the exercise. Local Police and Fire Departments were notified that SJVC was conducting this specific type of drill.
Every shooter and response action was scripted and developed for greatest student, staff and faculty educational experience. Not everyone was to know specific details of the outcome.
Shooter on Campus Threat Unfolds
At 10:55 a.m., an alarm sounded, triggering an immediate and complete campus evacuation, except for those in roles of direct involvement. It took only minutes for everyone to clear the area, leaving only those who had agreed to participate, including the designated “shooter.” The well-planned attack began.
From the Armed Assailant’s Eyes
I started on the second floor, running, engaging and shouting. I wanted to get to the cafeteria because it is a large common area and the safest place to stage and perform the final scenario.
I attempted to get into several classrooms. Doors were locked, so I kicked and banged at the doors to try to scare them. I discharged my weapon. (Defense instruction for response is to run; escape, if possible. Second defense is to lock or barricade the door, turn off cell phones and hide. Third defense is physical encounter: fight.)
Volunteer victims were felled in hallways. The shooter continued toward his destination where a security team (Criminal Justice students) met him fully prepared to engage.
Just outside the cafeteria, I really attempted to shake them up and escalate the environment and emotions for them. In this type of confrontation, Criminal Justice students are instructed to determine threat level and decide if it is a “calm down or take down” situation.
After a few intense moments, Darryl Chestnut, gave me the “go” signal, and I raised my AR-15 replica, so they could see what it would be like to experience that high-stress situation.
One Criminal Justice: Corrections student armed with a non-lethal replica that simulated gunfire was assigned to take down the assailant should the confrontation demand deadly force. When the shooter raised his weapon, he was met with a single gun’s short burst of fire that brought him down and eliminated the threat.
The entire rampage took only about 15minutes, but valuable training experiences were abundant.
“Even though we were all aware that this was a fictional event, I was struck by the seriousness and level of professionalism maintained by all members of each program,” says Dani LaVoie, nursing program student. “Complications that arose during the drill, both planned and unplanned, were dealt with using learned skills, innovative creativity, and an unquestionable desire to overcome adversity in order to do what was best for the affected individual or group.”
Fictional event or not, very real feelings and responses are triggered.
“Several people were shaken up after witnessing it; it’s not a lighthearted exercise,” says the designated shooter. “In the back of your mind, you wonder how people (perpetrators) can be this evil. I would like to think I’m a normal person, and to go around causing this kind of pain and suffering is not a natural state.”
After the exercise, the drill’s “assailant” took a few minutes alone to decompress. “I had to kind of disassociate myself from the crisis environment and get out of character as soon as possible. And, I didn’t want people to associate me with that character.”
He recovered his sense of self and was soon able to rejoin the response teams and say, “Hey, this is me; I’m back!”
The overall goal of this intense drill was to teach all program students the core objective in such a crisis: preparation, mitigation and response. Lives can be protected and saved.