Mock campus shooting helps personnel practice response

Two Kent State Police officers prepare to enter Olson Hall on July 25, 2013, during a shooter on campus training exercise. The exercise was a joint-training exercise between Kent State Police, Kent Police and Kent Fire Department, with the help of some student volunteers as actors. Photo by Coty Giannelli.

Two Kent State Police officers prepare to enter Olson Hall on July 25, 2013, during a shooter on campus training exercise. The exercise was a joint-training exercise between Kent State Police, Kent Police and Kent Fire Department, with the help of some student volunteers as actors. Photo by Coty Giannelli.

Christina Bucciere

About 10 bodies lay scattered across Olson Hall’s first-floor hallway July 25 awaiting care from first responders as part of an active-shooter emergency response drill to train police, firefighters and media relations officials to respond efficiently to hectic scenarios.

Around 25 students volunteered to role-play as victims and bystanders. One student, Ryan McNeilly, graduate technology major, acted as the gunman. McNeilly ran through the halls and pretended to commit suicide after “wounding” and “killing” several students.

The police and fire departments conduct active-shooter training drills multiple times a year, but a scenario of this scale has not been done since 2007, said Eric Mansfield, executive director of University Media Relations.

McNeilly said the experience showed the officers still have work to do.

“You could tell the officers were stressed because they were sweating and yelling, but for my part, it seemed like they didn’t know what was going on because they initially took the gun out of my hand and left,” McNeilly said. “And when they came back, it seemed like they didn’t know I was the shooter because they didn’t mark the spot where they had found the gun. So that’s something they need to work on, but their initiative was good.”

Once the responders received the fictional dispatch alert about the shooting, they divided into different task groups to patrol the perimeter of the building, set up a triage station to help the wounded and send in officers to secure the gunman.

Soon, “wounded” students emerged from the exit and were taken into triage to be assessed and marked at the appropriate injury severity level by wrist tags.

After 45 minutes, the scene was determined neutralized, and the officers — red-faced and short of breath — came out of Olson Hall to de-brief about the successes and shortcomings of the exercise.

The responders don’t know their specific tasks before the drill begins. This is to see how well the officers handle the pressure of the situation and how quickly they are able to take charge and delegate tasks, said Sgt. Nancy Shefchuk of the Kent State Police Department.

“It’s important to practice these high-risk, low-occurrence situations because we don’t get much practice with them in real life,” said Matt Radigan, police support services manager of the KSUPD.

KSUPD Chief John Peach said he wanted the exercise to focus on two areas: the operation of working with police and fire departments with an active shooter at the same time, and analyzing the efficiency of the emergency resource team.

“We are breaking new territory in figuring out whether or not fire and EMS people should go into a building without neutralizing the threat,” Peach said. “Usually they wait until the police say the threat’s over, and then they help the injured, wounded and dying. Most of the time the dead bleed to death, but they could have been saved.”

Allowing firefighters and medics into a threatening situation is usually not done because police officers do not want to risk anyone else as long as the threat is still active, Peach said. Firefighters are not trained to deal with an active gunman and do not carry weapons.

Through this exercise, the Kent Fire Department wanted to see how firefighters and police officers can work together to let medics go into a building when a gunman is still active in order to help the injured more quickly.

“It worked very well,” Peach said. “We would strongly consider doing this in future situations. We believe it is very probable at this point.”

The drill also tested the efficiency of the emergency resource team. Peach said the top administrators who comprise this team practiced how they would use the specific resources of each member to get the response tasks done efficiently.

“I can say based on the critique that we have received, both aspects went extremely well,” Peach said. “We’ve learned where we have to strengthen some procedures and policies, and we’ve also learned that we are better than we thought in some areas. Overall, I think everybody’s very pleased, and we’re going to build on this in future emergency exercises.”

University Media Relations also used the drill to practice how quickly its staffers can react to a crisis situation.

“We have to have a large level of planning as a university to be able to deal with the media and be able to get the information out to the public quickly and accurately,” Mansfield said. “So, I was very pleased with how quickly we were able to send out practice text alerts and Flashline emails to the university.”

The student actors gathered in the lawn after the exercise to talk about what happened during the drill.

“It was crazy and hectic, and it felt pretty real. It’s nice to see what happens on the other side of things from the police’s perspective,” said Sal DeSanto, senior finance major. “It was probably more beneficial to them than it was for us to know what that situation would be like, but they did a good job.”

Contact Christina Bucciere at [email protected].