CHAPEL HILL – UNC conducted an emergency drill Wednesday morning simulating a shooting and hostage situation at Davis Library. The exercise brought together law enforcement from across Orange County, with the goal of testing their response procedures in the event of a real situation.
UNC DPS worked alongside the Chapel Hill Police Department, the Carrboro Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, the Orange County Emergency Services, and the Chapel Hill Fire Department in the drill, shutting down much of Raleigh Street.
Actors portrayed gunmen, hostages and victims to simulate an actual emergency on campus. The drill began when campus police received a 911 call about shots fired in Davis Library just after 9 a.m. Officers arrived on the scene to find two suspects in the library. As the scenario unfolded throughout the day, 11 victims were involved, eight students and three staff members including one police officer, and five people had been taken hostage. Eventually, one suspect was fatally injured, and following negotiations with police, the other suspect was taken into custody. Roughly 170 people participated in the exercise.
Chief Jeff McCracken, Director of Public Safety at UNC, said that communication is one of the most important factors in a crisis situation. He said it is essential for law enforcement to communicate internally between agencies, and also be able to relay information to the public.
“If this incident were to happen at this time of year, the residence halls aren’t occupied by regular students, most are occupied by campers. So we had to figure out the effect that had on our ability to communicate with families,” McCracken said.
McCracken said that even when they have an all-hazards plan in place, changing conditions can make its implementation difficult at times.
“So that was something that we had to work through today which was helpful because we will always have a robust season every year, and we have to be able to deal with that,” he said.
Lieutenant Tom Twiddy of the UNC Department of Public Safety said events such as the shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech, and the Boston Marathon bombings make emergency preparedness critical.
“When other threatening incidents happen throughout the United States and the world, it puts more of an emphasis on making sure that we do this training and keep up-to-date on how we manage a crisis such as this,” Twiddy said.
UNC began doing drills like this after the Columbine shooting. The last real-life simulation drill took place at the Outdoor Education Center several years ago. They’ve also had in-house planning discussions, called “table-top drills,” where they come up with a scenario and then figure out how it would be handled.
“We work with them in theoretical situations, but really this is the best way to know how we are going to react and what roles people play if a real-life situation were to emerge,” said Randy Young, spokesman for UNC DPS.
Enviro Safe, a company that helps agencies in crisis preparedness, observed the drill and gave feedback following the exercise. The company worked with Ron Campbell, UNC’s emergency management director, to set up the scenario.
Derrick Duggins, the Executive Director of Corporate Operations for Enviro Safe, said it is a success anytime a university and local law enforcement agencies come together to exercise their emergency plans and procedures.
“We’re very pleased at the turnout and the agencies that did participate in the exercise. Overall, the objectives that the planning team at UNC, as well as the community partners and our internal team, put together were met. We were able to evaluate the processes and plans in accordance with what the university wanted,” Duggins said.
Twiddy says emergency planning exercises are a key part of the University’s efforts to enhance campus safety.
“We’ll talk about it, and there will be some things we like and some things we can improve on, and that why we do the excises,” Twiddy said.
UNC will update its communication plans based on information learned during the emergency drills, as well as the tests of the emergency siren system conducted each semester.