Drill prepares agencies for the real thing
Although the incident wasn't real, those responding acted as if it were.
Law enforcement and emergency personnel were on the campus of the University of Minnesota Morris June 29 for an active shooter exercise. In a meeting before the drill started, responders were reminded to use the words "exercise" and "drill" in their pages and radio dialogue during the exercise so as not to confuse the public.
"We're trying to make it as (real) as we possibly can," said Bryan Herrmann, the vice chancellor for finance and facilities at UMM. Yet, UMM officials wanted to make sure the drill was safe for participants and the general public, Herrmann said. UMM staff and students were informed of the drill in advance, he said. The exercise involved UMM Campus Police, Morris Police, the Stevens County Sheriff's Office, Stevens County Ambulance Service, and law enforcement and emergency responders from agencies throughout Stevens County. Stevens Community Hospital also participated in the training.
Just after 10:30 a.m. June 29, the notice was sent over emergency radio of a report of shots fired on the campus. The Stevens County Communications Center was the hinge pin for the exercise.
The center dispatches for all Stevens County law enforcement, including campus police, said now retired Lt. Jen Lund, of the UMM campus police, the drill's coordinator.
"Dispatch did an oustanding job with all the calls they were taking and the information they were giving out, as they do during actual emergencies," Lund said.
The emergency exchanges were frequent and informative. The shooter was wearing some gray attire, dispatch reported. Again, the words exercise or drill were inserted into each announcement.
While law enforcement responded to the mock report of a shooter in one building, another shooter at an unknown location was reported by dispatch. Law enforcement responded to the report of a second shooter, apparently wearing a maroon sweatshirt, while other law enforcement were handling the situation in Spooner Hall.
Ambulance and firefighters were on campus waiting to help victims. A key piece of the training was work on how to remove victims from an active threat situation in an area that may not be completely cleared, said Ron Velde, who is now the new chief of the UMM Campus Police.
"For me personally, it was very satisfying to see so many of these groups come together and work so fluidly," Velde said.
Area fire departments, EMS and law enforcement have all trained on different aspects of active threat before but the June 29 allowed them to cooperate in an exercise, Velde said.
By 10:58 a.m., Spooner Hall had been cleared, the dispatch announcement said during the exercise.
The second shooter situation was also controlled by law enforcement. As the active shooter exercise unfolded, participants assumed their roles in including containing a shooter or helping victims.
"In a real emergency, we would all come together," Herrmann said.
Given that there would be a joint response, a priority for the exercise was to build relationships and practice protocols, Lund said.
"We don't want our first time anyone thinks of our joint response protocols to be when an actual event is happening," Lund said.
Lund said the exercise proved to be the learning experience that coordinators wanted.
"You always come away with better ways to communicate with each other when you have that many different agencies responding," Lund said.
The exercise also showed the progress participants are making in coordinated efforts, Lund said. Lund said she was pleased with how well all agencies cooperated and responded.
Officials from the Minnesota Department of Homeland Security and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety observed and evaluation the exercise, Lund said. Evaluators provided "very positive feedback on the way agencies work and respond together in Stevens County," Lund said.