Response Exercise: Students Prepare for Unthinkable

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Students participate in active aggressor response drill

The scenario: An active aggressor, distraught over the breakup with his girlfriend, enters a building and begins a brief assault with a lethal weapon. There are multiple injuries, including the assailant’s self-inflicted mortal wound.

The sequence of events, mirroring incidents that have occurred all too often across the globe in recent years, was staged on the BJU campus as a simulated response exercise for University criminal justice, journalism and mass communication seniors, and seniors in the community health nursing course. It was the first time an active aggressor situation was organized for students on campus.

“It gives them a chance to see something played out real world, as much as we can make it real world, to get them thinking about the process,” said Larry McKeithan, criminal justice faculty in the Division of History, Government and Social Science. “One of the things they do in the police academy is do scenarios like this over and over to try to get you to think because a lot of times your typical reaction is to freeze in the situation. So, if you practice, you’ll do that if the situation ever arises in real life.”

Prepared Mentally and Physically

According to the Government Accounting Office, an active aggressor is an individual engaged in attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area. There is no pattern or method to their selection of victims and situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Because active aggressor situations are often over before law enforcement arrives on the scene (about 10 minutes), individuals should be prepared mentally and physically if faced with a threatening situation.

The Department of Homeland Security recognizes three responses if an active aggressor is in your area: avoid (flee), deny entry (to a room you’re in), defend (yourself by attempting to disrupt or incapacitate the aggressor).

“You Need to be Smart”

John Gardner, a retired captain in the Travelers Rest (S.C.) Police Department, administered the exercise.

“We want you to save lives and we want you to be safe. You need to be smart,” Gardner told students during a debrief. “What I always tell police officers is find work. Don’t stand in circles saying, ‘What do I do?’ I don’t care what it is; do something. Do nothing and people could die.

“God has given you gifts and abilities and training. Get to work.”

BJU students volunteered for role-playing situations, with Dan Sandy of the Department of Cinema applying realistic-looking wounds for nurses to administer triage to the “victims.” Criminal justice students shadowed Public Safety personnel for the police response, and mass communication students were engaged in reporting on a multiple-victim situation.

Calm in Midst of Chaos

Skills were tested in the midst of a nerve-racking situation that had multiple moving parts in a brief timeframe. Nursing major Camille Heinz provided her expectations before the exercise and an assessment after the debrief with Gardner and peers:

“I’m expecting an accurate scenario of something that could happen at some point. Hospitals are a big area for active shooter scenarios to happen, so I’m hoping it gives us a good idea of how we would respond if a situation like this does happen.”

“A situation never quite turns out the way you think it’s going to. I think it gave us a good taste of what your body does when you’re panicked a little, your adrenaline goes up, your mind is not thinking quite the same way as it normally is. It’s good to know how you might react in a situation. I stayed more calm than I thought I was going to, but I could have moved quicker.”

Drills are the Law

Active aggressor drills and seminars have become commonplace in the workplace, and 32 states have laws that require public schools to have emergency safety plans—including fire, lockdown and evacuation. In South Carolina, public schools with grades K-12 must conduct at least two active aggressor/intruder drills each school year in addition to required monthly fire and evacuation drills.

Gardner, assistant coach for the Bruins intercollegiate shooting sports teams, complimented all the students for their focused, effective and quick response in the chaotic situation.

“If you focus on how you’ve been trained, it usually kicks right back in and you know what to do regardless of chaos,” said nursing student Cassidy Vine.