It is still shocking to envision that island in Norway where on July 22 a lone gunman, dressed as a police officer, could simply walk through a youth camp and shoot 69 people dead. Immediately, we have all tried to sort it out – How could he do such a thing? Why would he target children? Why couldn’t anyone stop him?
As a parent, I am utterly heartbroken when I think of the parents running these very questions in a continuous loop through their minds, haunting every waking and sleeping moment. It was all so senseless, so inhumane. And yet, these things do happen. They happen in Norway, at Virginia Tech (32 dead), at Columbine (13 dead), at Northern Illinois University (21 dead), Beslan, Russia (334 dead, 186 were children)... Sadly, they happen.
If there is a small glimmer of silver hope in this story, it is that these occurrences are relatively rare. Generally, schools are safe places and gunmen do not freely roam the streets [in most of the world...]. But the fact that they DO happen, CAN happen, that we practice. We simulate “active shooter” scenarios and practice how we could quickly amount an attack and stop the attacker before he gets very far.
On Friday, July 29, we, at Cal State Fullerton, practiced this scenario. We set up a full-scale exercise to allow our first responders (University Police, surrounding Police and Fire agencies and our on-campus medical response team) to see, hear and feel what it is like to “be there.” We made our “victims” look like injured victims. [Kudos to our great make up team at CSUF!] We had guns that fire blanks so they everyone could hear what a gunshot sounds like and experience that first shock at how loud it really is. Police attack teams quickly formed and pursued the gunman. Police and Fire worked together in teams to rescue the injured.
Honestly, it was incredible to watch. They played, they worked, they learned. People who had never worked together before clicked into place. They had one common purpose – to pursue the gunman and bring him down.
I can’t help but think that if those teenagers in Norway had received some “fight back” training when confronted with an Active Shooter that the outcome could have been much different. We are now training people that sometimes you can’t just hide – that you have to actively participate in your survival. Of course when you just see yourself as a kid against a man – a “police man!” – with a gun, it must have seemed quite hopeless. But there are tactics out there that can be employed in such situations and we need to start teaching them.
So, this is why we practice. We try to engage as many people as possible that survival in any situation takes practice and knowledge. So, while it is sad that we need to practice these things, we practice because we know that if that one day comes, we will already have the skills to respond.
To see some great photos of our Active Shooter exercise, please to go http://prepare.fullerton.edu. Thank you to all who participated. You are awesome.