2008-01-17 / Community

CLU exercise tests efficiency and effectiveness of public safety agencies

By Eliav Appelbaum eliav@theacorn.com

Courtesy of ERIK HAGEN/California Lutheran University LOOKS REALISTIC- - A  deputy helps transport a student pretending to be injured during a fake shooting staged at California Lutheran University as an emergency preparedness exercise. Courtesy of ERIK HAGEN/California Lutheran University LOOKS REALISTIC- - A deputy helps transport a student pretending to be injured during a fake shooting staged at California Lutheran University as an emergency preparedness exercise. Gunfire echoed across the normally serene campus of California Lutheran University on Tuesday morning.

Two people, their faces white as ghosts, were crumpled on the ground, dead from gunshot wounds. Other victims had blood smeared across their necks or arms. The shooting suspect was at large. Who knows how many more were wounded?

Fortunately, the scene wasn't real.

It was part of a drill for emergency responders organized by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, the Ventura County Fire Department, Los Robles Hospital and CLU campus officers to help different agencies coordinate their efforts for the worst-case scenario.

The possibility of similar attacks on college campuses has generated tremendous concern since the Virginia Tech massacre on April 16, 2007, when 32 people were shot dead by a student.

"Any time you have this type of situation, it's very dynamic, it's very emotional," said Sgt. Mike De Los Santos of the sheriff's department. "The first couple minutes will always be hectic."

Communication between the different agencies is the key element in these types of drills.

"Information is constantly getting updated," said Nick Cleary, a Thousand Oaks firefighter.

The first responders were four police officers, who ran north on Pioneer Avenue from Faculty Road. Instead of securing the perimeter and attending to the wounded, their job was to immediately go after the shooter, asking the injured or witnesses two simple questions: What did he look like, and where did he go?

"The first group of officers don't wait for special formations," said Julie Novak, senior deputy/information officer with the Ventura County Sheriff's Department. "The whole idea is to go after the shooter. . . . (This procedure) really developed after Columbine."

After that, firefighters arrived on the scene and attended to the first few wounded they encountered. The SWAT team turned up and took over the responsibility of finding the suspect.

The fire department set up a triage for injured victims at Pioneer Avenue and Faculty Drive. The sheriff's department established its command center on the other side of Pioneer and Memorial Parkway, adjacent to Mount Clef Stadium.

Bomb squad, K-9 and hostage negotiation teams also contributed to the drill. The whole time, the situation was updated on a continual basis. All staff communicated through tactical and command channels. The command channel is for quick, vital and more general information for everyone. The tactical channel, which is sometimes called the chit-chat channel, offers more detailed reports.

Fire Capt. Barry Parker said the importance of training couldn't be overestimated.

"There's an important need for training," Parker said. "It helps us coordinate better, communicate better and realize improvements that need to be made. It also helps us see our strengths."

De Los Santos, Ventura County Fire Department Battalion Chief Ken Maffei and Fred Miller, CLU's director of campus safety and security, helped organize the event.

At the end of the drill, the suspect was shot dead, the seven hostages escaped relatively unscathed, and the 11 victims were in good hands.

"I'm satisfied," De Los Santos said. "It was well worth all the work."

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