By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Police officers at Missouri Southern State University on Thursday led local law enforcement and emergency responders in a drill that simulated the response to a shooter on the campus.
Josh Doak, a participant in the drill, said he thinks it’s important for MSSU to run through its safety procedures in the wake of shootings that have taken place in recent years at colleges and universities across the country.
“It’s a reality,” he said. “It’s a regular occurrence that unfortunately happens.”
The drill began at 8:30 a.m., when emergency dispatchers received a simulated call regarding a “shooter” inside the Health Sciences Building on the campus. At least five MSSU and Joplin police vehicles quickly arrived, with the officers rushing inside in pairs with their weapons. At the same time, the university’s campus alert system, broadcast from outdoor speakers on the tops of buildings, began playing a recorded test message.
Doak, who is the director of residence life at MSSU, volunteered to play the role of a student inside the Health Sciences Building during the drill. As part of the scenario, he made the initial call to report a “shooter” inside the building. About 10 minutes later, he came walking out the front of the building with his arms behind his head, just as police had instructed him to do.
After five more minutes, two police officers led a “suspect,” played by an MSSU student, outside and into a police vehicle. Meanwhile, officers were leading several “victims,” played by MSSU students, out a side door of the building to a nearby triage center, where medical personnel were set up to treat injuries.
Police said they “killed” a second suspect, also played by a student, inside the building before the drill was over. For safety reasons, they declined to discuss the tactics they used throughout the drill.
Ken Kennedy, chief of the MSSU police force, said his two goals during the training exercise were to test communication among all parties involved and to get the students out of the building as quickly as possible.
Other factors that weren’t necessarily being tested Thursday, such as securing the exterior of the building and setting up perimeters for crowd control, would be implemented by police during a real emergency, he said.
The training also proved to be a learning experience as police found aspects that needed improvement. For example, communication was difficult when officers discovered that their radios and some of their cellphones did not have service inside the Health Sciences Building, Kennedy said.
That was one of the “hiccups” that overall made the drill a success, said Lt. Matt Stewart, with the Joplin Police Department.
“That’s why we do this training,” he said. “That’s why we practice.”
Speaking to media afterward, MSSU President Bruce Speck said Thursday’s training is critical to ensuring people’s safety should a real emergency happen.
“One of the greatest concerns we have is the safety of anyone who comes on campus,” he said. “We have to make sure we are prepared if something like this happens.”
MSSU has procedures in place to inform students, faculty, staff members and the community of a real emergency, said Bob Harrington, director of the physical plant and also the university’s designated incident commander.
If an emergency is reported, information or instructions would be sent out immediately through a text messaging notification system, he said. MSSU students, faculty and staff members are automatically enrolled in the program. Information also would be broadcast on the campus mass notification system that can be heard both inside buildings and outdoors.
The university’s website and social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, would be updated with information, Harrington said. Additional information would be released through MSSU spokeswoman Cassie Mathes.
Mathes said Thursday’s drill had been planned for months and was not a direct response to the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn., in which a gunman shot and killed 26 people at an elementary school before killing himself.
MSSU POLICE CHIEF KEN KENNEDY said Thursday’s active-shooter training was funded by a $400,000 federal grant to help develop, improve or implement campus-based emergency management planning efforts.