Screams and gunshots resonated throughout the Mourant Building at the University of Alaska Southeast Tuesday afternoon. Yet the realistic terror was not real at all, but rather a tool to help prepare staff members in case an actual crisis strikes.
The UAS Emergency Management Department conducted a full-scale, emergency response exercise to train the campus' Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) on how to react if a violence erupts on campus and emergency responders are delayed.
Rick Forkel, director of UAS's Emergency Management Department, said the exercise was in response to shootings at Virginia Tech, and others. He said that not only does violence sometimes occur, outside factors can impede immediate repose from authorities so CERT must be able to deal with the situation.
"Unless you're dealing with real-world situations, you can't be prepared," Forkel said. He added that this exercise was the culmination of a year of training for CERT.
The exercise started off with a mock gunman patrolling the building and firing at people in a fit of rage before taking his own life. CERT members' jobs were to tend to the wounded while waiting for medical personnel.
After the rampage, CERT practiced training for the aftermath and helping the victims while waiting for medical responders. Forkel said it's a very real possibility for emergency responders to be detained and so the importance of immediate assistance is invaluable.
"The most important thing is for us to be ready. The more people practice the more ready they'll be," said UAS chancellor John Pugh.
"The active shooter scenario is a very serious one. This will help us figure out what we need to change to be ready."
He said that while the threat of violence remains on all campuses, this exercise is to prepare this one for something that will hopefully never happen.
The exercise had marks of authenticity. The gunman was firing blanks from an actual .223-caliber assault rifle, and victims were dressed with fake blood and wounds. There were 18 mock victims, eight volunteers and 10 mannequins. As in real life, some of the victims CERT found did not survive.
One of the mock victims was Michelle Moffitt, administrative assistant to the dean of the School of Education. She said she partook in the exercise because of the importance of showing what emergencies look like in real life.
UAS health and safety manager Daniel Garcia heads CERT. He said the team focuses on triage, teamwork and assisting first responders when they arrive.
"Our mission is to do the most good for the most people in the shortest amount of time," he said.
CERT is made up of 22 volunteers from the university's staff, including all types of employees from administrative positions to maintenance.
"It's a range of jobs that are part of this," Pugh said. "What we try to do is make sure we have team members in every building."
The members went through three days of emergency training in November. Garcia said this training consisted of several topics, including medical training, light search and rescue, disaster psychology and terrorist issues.
Garcia said while this exercise made believe emergency personnel was tied up, the first thing people should do in an emergency is alert police and other responders.
UAS worked with several other agencies for the exercise, including the Alaska State Troopers, the City and Borough of Juneau's Emergency Management, the Juneau Police Department, Capital City Fire and Rescue and Bartlett Regional Hospital.
"Community awareness is the key to the whole thing," Forkel said.
Police officers from the city, plus the university's boroughs in Anchorage and Fairbanks were on hand to act as police officers would in this situation. Matt Dubois, an officer with the Juneau police, portrayed the gunman.
Pugh said CERT has done table exercises for such violence, but this was their first attempt at a full simulation.
Jim Danielson, vice-chancellor for administrative services, is a part of CERT and said seeing a shooter and victims rather than table discussions helped everyone on the team be aware of the risks involved and to be prepared.
Forkel said this exercise was part of a state-wide training program covering all of the university's campuses.
Lt. Ron Swartz, police manger at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said the next step will be to meet with all the agencies involved and determine what areas of CERT's training was most effective and what needs to be worked on.
Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276.
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