Emergency drills give first responders chance to practice at Weber State

Aug 16 2013 - 12:06am

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NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner 
Ogden Police Master Officer Kevin Mann steps over a “victim” during a simulated shooting on Thursday at University Village near Weber State University.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner 
Television cameramen record the scene as police conduct a simulated shooting on Thursday at University Village near Weber State University in Ogden.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Ogden police officers respond to a simulated shooting on Thursday at University Village near Weber State University.
Ogden Police master officer Kevin Mann helps carry a victim outside during a simulated shooting Thursday, August 15, 2013 at University Village near Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. (NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner)
Ogden Police and Weber State Police officers respond to a simulated shooting Thursday, August 15, 2013 at University Village near Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. (NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner)
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner 
Ogden Police Master Officer Kevin Mann steps over a “victim” during a simulated shooting on Thursday at University Village near Weber State University.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner 
Television cameramen record the scene as police conduct a simulated shooting on Thursday at University Village near Weber State University in Ogden.
NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner
Ogden police officers respond to a simulated shooting on Thursday at University Village near Weber State University.
Ogden Police master officer Kevin Mann helps carry a victim outside during a simulated shooting Thursday, August 15, 2013 at University Village near Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. (NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner)
Ogden Police and Weber State Police officers respond to a simulated shooting Thursday, August 15, 2013 at University Village near Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. (NICK SHORT/Standard-Examiner)

OGDEN -- The first, frantic call reported an armed intruder at Weber State's Hurst Center. A SWAT team cleared the building and began to debrief when a second report came in about an active shooter at University Village.

Just as the second situation was resolved, a third report came to the WSU Police Department's command center about an additional gunman holed up at Annex 8.

All three scenarios were part of an emergency drill, giving local safety and medical first responders a chance to practice their skills.

"We've never really experienced anything like this at Weber State," said Dane LeBlanc, WSU campus police chief. "If we did, it would be everyone's worst nightmare."

LeBlanc said the WSU Police Department does two drills a year, inviting in other agencies for one. The drills grow each year, LeBlanc said, and Thursday's simulation was the most complex yet for the university.

"We invited Ogden City Police, the Ogden-Weber Metro SWAT Team, fire departments and the hospitals," LeBlanc said. "It's a very complex and dynamic exercise, and we have set up an emergency operation center with more than 40 people playing a myriad of roles."

People were assigned to logistics, operations, planning, policy, liaisons and more. Additional agencies participating were Ogden City Fire Department, South Ogden police and Fire departments, Weber founty and Northview Fire departments, and McKay-Dee Hospital and Ogden Regional Medical Center.

"We want our community to know we are working hard to have a safe and secure campus, and are ready to respond to any situation, if it were to arise," LeBlanc said.

For the second scenario, more than two dozen students were recruited as simulated gunshot victims. They were smeared with a reddish color, to indicate the site and severity of their imaginary injuries. A few students were asked to make frantic calls from their cellphones, following scripts.

Brande Burnt, from the WSU residential housing office, sat on the grass, making a dramatic, sobbing plea to each new group of responders, telling them she was hurt and that a shooter was still inside with other victims. As each group raced ahead, Burnt would break character, and resume her normal, calm persona.Did she notice nobody was interested in helping her?

"I know, right?" she said, laughing. "But they are doing what they are supposed to do, following the plan. The medical people will be here soon."

Drills are vital, said John Harvey, Ogden police deputy director of support services, who shared command responsibility for Scenario 3.

"We need to test our skills and identify things we need to work on," Harvey said. "I predict we will learn that some things didn't go the way we thought they would. It gives us a chance to fix potential problems before they really occur."

It's all about education.

"It's great for Weber State to host an event like this, because this is a place of learning, and all these agencies can learn together," said Allison Hess, WSU public relations director, in charge of Scenario 1.

Simulations, held annually, allow responders from different agencies to work together.

"The value to us is huge," said Eric Bauman, deputy Ogden City Fire chief, who was in charge of the second scenario. "We work together and get to know each other's procedures. In the event of a real emergency, we already have working relationships."

Bauman said officers in all three scenarios followed the Weber County Mass Casualty Plan, which outlines best practice for a wide variety of situations, from mass shootings to earthquakes.

Before long, the Scenario 2 building was declared clear, and the "shooter" was apprehended. Law officers had already headed off to the Scenario 3 location, WSU Annex 8, chosen because of its scheduled demolition today. Before it was over, SWAT teams would surround the structure, negotiate and, ultimately, detonate explosives to blast out the Annex 8 door.

But back at University Village, shooter Mayra Cardenas' day was winding down. The Ogden Police Department records clerk had volunteered to play a terrorist.

"They owe me a new hoodie," she joked, putting her finger through one of the two holes made by the blue-pellet ammo that took her down.

Cardenas, 25, was told to hide in a room of her choice. Crouched under a desk, she escaped initial detection, so she ran into a hallway and fired pellets at officers. She was apprehended hiding in the closet of a second room.

"They told me to drop my gun, but I didn't," Cardenas said. "When I leaned out to look, they got me."

In real life, Cardenas wants to be a police officer, and plans to take the next local entrance exam.

"To see them take control of a bad situation was very inspiring," she said. "This gives me 110 percent more enthusiasm to be an officer. I want to help those who need to be helped. It's important work, and it's my goal to go for it."

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