Faux shooting felt all too real

News-Register | Joanna Mikolajczak – In this re-enactment of an active shooter scenario, a student plays the role of a victim.

NLCPD’s Active Shooter session prompts 911 call

By Bruce Nunes
Staff Writer

Gun shots fired during an Active Shooter Awareness training session Oct. 5 on the top floor of the T-Building were thought to be real by students and staff on the floor below, triggering calls to 911 and causing the North Lake College Police Department to re-examine its communication process for future presentations.

The “gun” that was used in the training session was a track meet starting pistol that doesn’t fire actual bullets, yet sounds similar to real gunfire. It is part of the training session, where NLCPD demonstrate the proper response to an active shooter on campus. Even though the officers and individuals in attendance at the exercise were aware of the simulation, no one on the first floor of the building knew about the training.

“We had gotten some information that there was going to be ‘training,’ though I think the challenge is in the way you interpret the word ‘training’,” said Diana Reding nursing coordinator. “Our information did not give us anything that said there was going to be an actual re-enactment, so naturally when all that occurred that was very disturbing.”

During the training, Reding was administering an exam, but once the pseudo shots and screams were heard in the building, students began to react in confusion and fright.

“Certainly some students were scared,” she said.

Despite the surprise of the incident, the faculty of the nursing department were not without an emergency plan. “As nurses, we have training in what to do in these kinds of situations,” Reding said.  “It was very appropriate for us to keep the doors closed, to make sure that they are not available from the outside.”

The lack of communication responsible for the misunderstanding is something the NLCPD has not taken lightly.  That day, even though the first floor of the T-Building was not informed of the exercise, the police did inform the Irving Police dispatch and instructors on the second floor.

“We notified them of a police training in progress and any reports of gunfire in that building would be us,” said Officer Joe Santos, the emergency management coordinator at North Lake College. “Unfortunately, the sounds of our practical exercises resonated downstairs and it was actually out of view of our signs, too.”

Santos is at the helm of the Active Shooter Awareness program, and facilitates the kind of training that was conducted in the T-Building.

The students that dialed 911 were informed of the set-up by  the Irving Police Department.

“So our fail-safe worked,” Santos said.

However, this showed the NLCPD that improvements in communication were needed before further simulations were scheduled.

“We spent time together looking at the situation and what happened, and how we can prevent that from happening in the future,” Santos said.

As a result, the new notification process will include contacting local police, stationing uniformed officers at the site of the simulation, visible signage and advisory emails to students and faculty. These improvements also call for greater police department accountability and response.

“We are actually making smaller signs so we can put them on each classroom door and on the blackboard, that way they see it,” said Santos.

These changes have already been implemented and were in place Oct. 26 when another active shooter simulation was presented.

Despite the errors, Santos said the situation did have positive impacts. All those involved responded in appropriate ways and none of the conceived “danger” caused any permanent damage.

The program will continue to be conducted in the T-Building for all future demonstrations.  If anything, Santos feels that this oversight has only served to make North Lake stronger, safer and more prepared for whatever may happen in the future.