CMC active shooter drill trains first responders
I am in the cafe on Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley Campus when the shooting starts.
If I wasn’t there specifically for the active shooter drill arranged by CMC and local emergency services, I probably wouldn’t even notice the faux gunman pass by the window. The light chatter of conversation could easily drown the pops of simulated gunfire as he levels a brightly colored fake handgun at a group of participants on the patio outside.
Even being prepared, it takes a moment to process. Before the volunteers playing students and staff are even fully out of their chairs, he is through the doors.
The illusion is spoiled somewhat by the group of observers following in his wake, as well as the plastic bags he stomps on to create the requisite popping noise. Other security crews patrol campus, making sure no one stumbles on the scene without the helpful prep talk.
“We sacrificed some realism for safety,” explained organizer Travis Rohe with the Glenwood Springs Fire Department.
Even so, it’s a dramatic spectacle. The would-be victims follow the protocol they were taught — run, hide, fight, in that order — but there’s too little time to respond. One woman dives ineffectively behind the couch and the shooter tails two more behind the counter, spewing invective. Were their weapons chairs instead of pool noodles, it might have gone differently, but as it is, it’s over in a few seconds and he’s in the cafeteria. Tactics like locked doors and doused lights will later delay him more, buying precious time for people to escape.
I realize I’ve lost track of someone, then hear her panicked phone call coming from the adjacent shop. Similar scripted calls are being made around campus, including some with deliberately conflicting information to conjure the real chaos of such an event. Not scripted is the lack of cell service for Verizon customers, who scramble for land lines instead.
CMC President Carrie Hauser later addresses the communication issue when we all reassemble.
“It’s life and safety for our students and staff,” she says. “There is no better reminder than today how important this is for our campus.”
Once the phone calls are made, the volunteer actors — mostly staff and resident assistants — switch roles. They’ve intentionally avoided playing victims until it’s necessary.
“We wanted to train them to do the right thing,” Rohe explains. “It’s supposed to empower them and give them to tools to survive.”
Outside, an array of emergency vehicles and even a medical helicopter wait for the response time countdown. While many such drills end at this point, this one has just begun.
“The public expects us to be prepared,” Rohe observes.
When the first law enforcement officers burst through the doors, the injured in the cafeteria begin yelling for help. The deputies assure the wounded that paramedics are on the way, then move on to secure the scene. Outside, emergency medical service personnel are listening to their radio traffic — something of an accomplishment unto itself.
“It takes time for law enforcement and EMS to get on the same page. Our goal is for it to be seamless,” Rohe explains. “Each agency got something out of it.”
Paramedics arrive to begin triage and the cries of help begin to subside. Some are “treated” on site, some are helped outside and are “transported” to a faux hospital around the corner. One man, dragged out of the cafeteria and left holding his head, lays motionless.
Meanwhile, the focus begins to shift to the area set aside for “reunification.” It’s where the survivors are gathered and where loved ones will be sent to find them. Stunned students sign in and wait patiently. The parents, portrayed by first responders experienced with distraught people, are not so easily corralled.
“Has anyone seen my son?” yells a man in an EMT uniform, trying to push past a CMC employee with a clipboard. Behind him, a swell of voices suggests a riot brewing. In an emotionally charged situation, it’s hard to accept any delay, but the protocol is necessary.
“People should look to official sources for information and not become part of the problem,” Rohe says.
Soon enough, we’re treated to happy reunions between actors who may not actually know each other. There are also some convincing displays of grief — a reminder of the motive for the drill in the first place.
“In this day and age, we need to practice as much as we can to make sure our students and staff are safe,” Hauser observes.
Indeed, it was CMC that reached out to plan the drill. With staff from several locations participating, Spring Valley was selected due to some of its technical challenges and the decreased likelihood of scaring the neighbors.
“This is a really good place to practice,” says campus dean Heather Exby.
Although she sees plenty of room to improve, Exby seems pleased with the drill.
“The collaborative piece is just marvelous,” she says. “I think the community should be proud.”