Neutralizing North Hall: This is just an exercise

By Gianluca D’Elia

Students hide under desks and chairs during an active shooter response exercise in North Hall on March 22.
Students hide under desks and chairs during an active shooter response exercise in North Hall on March 22.

Lawrence Police charged into North Hall with rubber guns in search of a gunman during an active shooter response exercise held on March 22.

Although it was only a drill, Public Safety and Lawrence Police made it as realistic as possible, holding the drill in a central location on campus while students were walking to and from classes.

While Public Safety set a perimeter around North Hall and directed traffic, the police responded to enter the building, neutralize the shooter and assist with evacuation, said Public Safety Director Vickie Weaver.

The emergency response went “exceedingly well,” according to Weaver. All responders worked together, arrived at and entered North Hall in a timely fashion and were focused on the exercise and the opportunity it presented to further hone their skills.

The authenticity of the drill was enhanced by student volunteers from the Student Government Association who participated in the drill by representing the victims. Some fled the building while others barricaded themselves in a classroom.

“Without a doubt, having the students participating in this drill made a huge and positive difference on many levels,” Weaver said. “The students brought realism to the exercise as they had to determine in the heat of the moment whether to ‘get out’ or ‘hide out.’”

Weaver said the SGA Senate had previously reached out to Public Safety asking to be part of an active shooter exercise. SGA also requested for Lawrence Police to participate.

“It was pretty intense,” said junior psychology major Chris Abdallah, an SGA senator who volunteered in the exercise. “Even though it was fake, seeing the police with rubber guns and hearing everyone shouting commands was a little intimidating.”

Weaver said the drill was designed to test the readiness of the responders, the effectiveness of the training materials such as the “Shots Fired” video, and the quality of the communications system. It also allowed for observation from building marshals, floor monitors, the Lawrence Township Office of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). As part of the test on the communications system, the entire campus received both a pre-recorded phone call from the university and a Rider Alert text message.

Abdallah said there were two drills, one in which the shooter attempted to enter the classroom, and another where the shooter did not approach the room. The second drill served the purpose of escorting students out of the building after the shooter was found and taken away by police.

As one of the students who fled the building for part of the exercise, Abdallah said officers pointed the rubber guns and demanded students keep their hands up as they exited the building.

The rest of the SGA participants who stayed in the classroom barricaded themselves in the room with tables and chairs. They also adopted techniques from the active shooter training video all the participants had to watch, such as keeping themselves spread out instead of huddling close together.

Since doors in North Hall open outward into the hallway, Abdallah said the barricade of desks and chairs was not sufficient enough to keep the shooter out, so one student removed his belt and hooked it around the door handle to hold it shut.

“After taking the training course, I feel far more prepared if I were ever to be in a real situation like this,” Abdallah said. “The drill was really cool. Rather than just reacting to a situation, it’s good to have a solid action plan. You’re ready and you know what you should be doing.”

In 2015, there were 23 shootings on college campuses, according to Time magazine. The most deadly was the Oct. 1 shooting at Umpqua Community College that took the lives of nine students.

“We have to plan for all types of emergencies that could happen on a college or university campus,” Weaver said. “It’s called taking an All Hazards Approach. We have to recognize that things that happen past our campus borders could also happen within our borders.”

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