University police responded to a fictitious gunman in Newsom Residence Hall Thursday morning as part of a drill designed to “mimic” the events of the Virginia Tech massacre.
The scenario began at about 8:30 and included a fictitious gunman killing a student in Newsom, fleeing the scene and then releasing a chemical agent in Yates Hall, said Dexter Yarbrough, CSU Police Department chief.
CSUPD officers and a simulated SWAT team were then sent to various locations including the Lagoon only to find the fake suspect had relocated.
“It was a Virginia Tech-like situation,” Yarbrough said. “I don’t think anyone is prepared for a situation like that. I think we can respond to it, which is where we’ve found we’re ready.”
Newsom was arbitrarily chosen for the drill, Yarbrough said, because it is important to use an actual campus building for such drills.
As CSUPD searched Newsom and secured the building, media relations personnel gathered information for the press and communications experts practiced sending text and e-mail alerts to campus and the surrounding communities – where in the scenario, students and residents were beginning to panic.
No actual alerts were sent, Yarbrough said, and Fort Collins Police Services and the Larimer County Sheriff were notified before the drill was broadcast on a vacant police channel.
Security on college campuses remains a hot topic months after 33 people, including the lone gunman, were killed in two separate attacks in a residence hall and lecture hall on the Virginia Tech campus in April.
Though this particular drill was designed to find “gaps” in CSU’s emergency response to a similar situation, university officials said such exercises are a regular part of keeping campus safe from not only violence but also natural disasters.
“The primary concern is the safety of students, staff and visitors,” said Brad Bohlander, a CSU spokesperson. “There’s just no way to evaluate how prepared you are to respond until you’ve put (plans) into practice.”
The drill was planned about a month in advance by CSU’s Emergency Management Team, which includes personnel from various campus departments including CSUPD, Housing and Dining Services, Facilities Management and the President’s office.
All of those groups, Bohlander said, are instrumental in responding to any kind of emergency on campus.
“It’s a really good way to make sure we’re all on the same page so if a crisis was to occur, we’d know the steps to take,” he said. “If this were an actual crisis, all these people would have been involved.”
The core group of the EMT, headed by Yarbrough, meets once a month, while larger meetings with more departments are held quarterly, university officials said.
Although the drill was broadcast on a separate police channel, a former Student Media employee working at Wyoming TV station heard the transmission. And thinking a real-life shooting had occurred on campus, he alerted reporters and advisers who ran to Newsom Hall only to find police had left the area.
The radio conversation stated that it was only a drill, Yarbrough said.
“We didn’t mean to (scare you),” he said, laughing.
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