“This Is Only a Drill!”

Add This

RU-N conducts its first full-scale active shooter drill utilizing staff as participants.

Scenario live! Scenario live! Scenario live! And with those three commands, all mayhem broke loose on the first, second, and fourth floors of John Cotton Dana Library at Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) on Friday, January 8, 2016.

As loud, staccato gunshots rang out, patrons of the library, who moments ago had been calmly milling about, raced to nearby exits and ducked for cover, all while screams and cries of fear and panic permeated the air. Some managed to escape the building unscathed and call for help. Many successfully sheltered in place. Others were not as fortunate, however, and fell victims to random or targeted gun spray.

Approximately two minutes after the chaos ensued, police officers arrived on the scene and immediately began hunting for the perpetrators. Amid the pungent odor of gunpowder, and bypassing all victims in apparent need of help, the officers quickly maneuvered toward the sounds of gunfire and eventually apprehended or killed each of the three shooters.

End scenario! End scenario! End scenario! And with those three commands, RU-N’s first full-scale active shooter drill utilizing staff as participants came to a successful close.

After a 20-minute debriefing session with all actors and observers, facilitated by Rutgers University Lieutenant Matthew Gulsby, everyone repeated another round of the same drill. As a result of the information shared and lessons learned during the first debriefing session, the second round claimed fewer "casualties" than the first.

Dana Library Director Consuella Askew initiated the idea of conducting an active shooter drill that would involve members of the library staff. “Our university is open to the general public, and Dana Library hosts a large number of students and guests at any given time. It just makes sense that our staff is properly trained to handle potential threats like these,” Askew stated.

Working closely for approximately six months with Chief Carmelo Huertas of RU-N Public Safety and Steven Keleman, director of the Rutgers Office of Emergency Management, Askew and her staff orchestrated an active shooter drill that closely simulated a live event and involved 58 actors, including 27 law enforcement officers; 22 observers; fake, blank-shooting weapons; piped-in sounds of pandemonium; a drill-specific “9-1-1” emergency phone number; and on-site public safety professionals.

“It is important to structure a drill -- whether a fire drill or an active shooter drill -- that is as authentic in look and feel to a live event as possible. It gives people the opportunity to manage their thoughts, emotions, and actions more effectively,” noted Keleman. “If the real event ever occurs, hopefully a potential victim’s response will be quick and instinctive after having gone through numerous drills beforehand.”

During the debriefing sessions, the law enforcement officers imparted many life-saving words of wisdom. For example, most active shooters are looking for a target-rich environment to cause as much death and destruction as possible. Realizing that time is at a premium, the shooter usually will not waste it by attempting to barge through locked or jammed doors or searching in dark or difficult to reach places. So potential victims should hide (stay out of sight, out of mind), make themselves small in stature, place a barricade in front of them, and call for help as soon as possible.

Each event is unique, fluid, and dynamic. “If everyone goes into survival mode, doing anything and everything reasonably possible to save their lives, it will drastically reduce their chances of becoming victims,” remarked Chief Huertas. “Active shooter drills are intended to reduce a victim’s response time and thus save lives.”

The executive director of Rutgers Public Safety and chief of University Police, Kenneth B. Cop, echoed these sentiments stating, “The importance of conducting these types of drills cannot be overstated. In a real-life event, these practice scenarios and the lessons learned from them, will pay huge dividends towards strengthening communications between staff and public safety, which is paramount to maintaining a safe campus and an informed community that is ready to react.”

Top: RU-N police officers Mauricio Hernandez (left) and Jay St. Louis (right) apprehend active shooter actor Sergeant Anthony Timbol during full-scale active shooter drill at Dana Library; photo credit: Ferlanda Fox Nixon

Bottom: Lt. Matthew Gulsby, Rutgers University Police Department, briefing Dana Library staff and observers prior to active shooter scenario; photo credit: Ed Berger