Law enforcement agencies simulate shooting response at college

JOHNSTOWN – How would officials respond to a shooter at Fulton-Montgomery Community College?

The college administration and faculty and various local law-enforcement agencies worked together Thursday to find out as they prepared themselves for the possible scenario.

They ran through staged drills to simulate the scenario of someone shooting in the area of the Campus View Student Housing Facility.

The drill was designed to test the ability to react to such an incident, college President Dustin Swanger said.

“There have been a number of shootings on campuses and in high schools over the last few years, and we have to be prepared, and this drill is designed to help us do that,” Swanger said. “The belief that it can’t happen here would be unrealistic because something like this can happen at any time.”

Swanger said a typical shooting incident would be over in about eight minutes, so campus security likely would be the first authorities on the scene before other emergency personnel would arrive within about 10 minutes.

“Our public safety would be the first responders and it would most likely be done before police arrive, so it’s important for us to become familiar with the situation now before something really happens,” Swanger said.

Throughout the late morning hours, the campus conducted three drills at the student housing involving different shooters, locations, wounded and fatalities.

For instance, the final drill involved two active shooters in two separate buildings in the student housing area where three victims played wounded, including a police officer responding to the shooting scenario.

There was an initial report at 11:19 a.m. that there had been a shooting at FM’s Student Housing, and FM’s Incident Command Team immediately were in communication with campus security for the simulated situation.

The Command Team assembled at the Public Safety Office on campus and immediately made a call to 911 and activated the Emergency Network and SUNY Alert Systems. The college also quickly established contact with a Department of Public Safety officer at the housing complex and notified State University of New York administrators.

Although the Incident Command Center in this drill was in the Public Safety Office and the emergency medical triage was Raider’s Cove in the athletic building, Swanger said the actual areas would be selected depending where the event was taking place.

The Command Team had a variety of tasks to assign in a matter of minutes, including: stage a fire department location, decide who will answer incoming calls, who would have direct radio contact with DPS, who would monitor the video surveillance and work with police to identify the location of possible victims and the active shooter, who would maintain the list of the wounded, deceased and number of shooters, and finally assign who would coordinate communication with the families of students and staff.

The active-shooter drills were scheduled to take place at the Campus View Student Housing Facility between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Swanger said a definite time wasn’t set for the drill because the college wanted to make the planned incident as real as possible. In a real shooting scenario, the college would have no notice of a potential shooting before it took place, so the college conducted business as usual on campus.

He said a few years ago, the college did an active-shooter drill on the main campus, and the law enforcement officials involved asked the college to conduct a similar drill in the student housing complex.

“I certainly hope this is a drill we never have to engage, but it is a drill that is important for us to practice,” Swanger said.

Although this was a staged drill, those in the command center were serious while screams and gunfire could be heard over the radio. The director of IT at the college, Greg Roth, was on the line with 911 dispatch for the first two scenarios so the college could be prepared for the type of information dispatch to request in a real situation.

The college had the support of several law-enforcement agencies and emergency responders.

“When a life-threatening event happens, area agencies need to respond in a timely manner. It’s important for us to work together and be on the same page. Of course, there were a few glitches, but that’s the reason behind the training, to figure it out now,” said Mark Pierce, FM’s director of public safety.

Swanger said overall, the three planned shooter drills went well and gave the law enforcement agencies and campus staff experience in what can be a chaotic situation.

“We ran through three scenarios, and as each scenario happened, we became more comfortable with our roles,” Swanger said. “We also realized how chaotic a situation like this can seem when trying to gather information for 911 dispatch while officers are engaging the suspect. It was also the first time many of the local emergency responders have been to Campus View, so it was a worthwhile event for them as well.”

Levi Pascher can be reached at [email protected].

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