“Male, white,5’10”, blue shirt.”
“Multiple victims down, gunshot wounds.”
“Officer down. Repeat, Officer down.”
With phrases like these coming from police radios, the sounds of bullets being fired and screams of terrified bloody victims, the Student Services Center turned into what looked like a scene reminiscent of Columbine or Virginia Tech.
The first Saddleback College Active Shooter Exercise was put on by the Saddleback College Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Orange County Fire Authority on Tuesday, March 25 to simulate their response to an active shooter on campus.
“As a college president, as a citizen, as a human being, I can’t think of a worse nightmare,” said Tod Burnett, President of Saddleback. “What’s really scary about that is it’s probably the most likely scenario that we might see on our campus… This is one of the things we are trying to do to be much more prepared if and ever such a horrible disaster like this happens.”
Due to previous events, the campus and local law enforcement saw the need for a plan of action for this circumstance.
“Recent events have motivated us to do this,” said Jennie McCue, Director of Marketing and Communications. “It’s an opportunity for us to work with our local law enforcement and Orange County Fire Authority, to understand and respect people’s responsibilities should such an incident occur on our campus.”
It also gave a chance for the multiple Orange County agencies to practice working together.
“We have not had the opportunity to work with Orange County Fire or law enforcement, so here’s our opportunity,” said Christopher Wilkinson, Chief of Police at Saddleback.
The simulation was designed as a learning tool for first responders in these situations and the 54 staff and faculty CERT members.
“This is a learning exercise. So we want them to make any errors, or whatever youwould call it, behind our law enforcement and fire personnel,” Wilkinson said. “They have evaluators in vests with clipboards. They will be critiquing them and helping them through this.”
The scenario was law enforcement responding to the call of a possible suicide which turned into a school shooting.
“Basically the drill is the call of a student that’s talking to themselves. We get that a lot,” Wilkinson said. “There’ll be a couple calls inserted down to my dispatch center at the far end of campus. My officers are staged to come to a possible 5150. When they start getting closer, they will actually ramp up the scenario.”
More than 40 volunteers from Saddleback’s cosmetology, nursing and theatre departments took on the roles of the victims with some of them wearing special effect makeup depicting gunshot wounds.
“Our cosmetology department and faculty are actually responsible for helping to make this a real life scenario,” McCue said.
Inside the building, one of the SWAT officers acted as the shooter and fired blanks.
“The reason why we did that was to cause the law enforcement to go to a hunter mode to go towards the noise,” Wilkinson said.
Volunteers were also alarmed by the multiple “gunshots” that were fired.
“We were in the room where the shooting started,” said Briana Clark, a 23-year-old nursing major. “It was scary being in there and hearing the screams. It was really realistic.”
Law enforcement personnel were given disabled blue and red guns to use for the exercise.
Even though volunteers knew it was a drill, the emotions and responses to the action were genuine.
“We knew it wasn’t real, but it felt like it. My heart rate was going,” said Ashley Townsend, a 20-year-old EMT student. “It was good practice for if I was ever in a situation like that.”
However, some felt that law enforcement could give more tips to volunteers as to how to react in this scenario.
“It raised a lot of questions. There was a girl screaming in the hallway ‘Help me! Help me!’ andI didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Should I go help her or stay in the room?” said Raquel Karstens, a 26-year-old nursing major. “It would have helped if they gave us more direction.”
The Saddleback Police Department has a flyer specifically for instructions and suggestions on how to act in an active shooter scenario. It can be found at www.saddleback.edu/police.
Overall, the simulation was seen as a success.
“The response has been very positive,” McCue said. “I think practice can only help us.”