Penn. College Undergoes Mass Shooting Training
Reading Eagle, Pa.
Aug. 17—The sights and sounds that began a simulated active-shooter training scenario Thursday on the Alvernia University campus were likely similar to any real mass shooting in any institutional setting.
A scream and shout. People running in a panic from a building, followed by the sounds of sirens.
Reading police were looking to conduct active-shooter training in conjunction with city firefighters on one of the educational campuses, Police Chief Andres Dominguez Jr. said.
"One of the bigger trends is EMS (emergency medical services) actually going in while the event is occurring rather than waiting until it's all over to come in," said Capt. Andrew Winters, who heads the patrol division.
But that requires coordination, so city police decided to prepare by practicing together.
They found a willing host within the city in Alvernia, whose campus security department annually conducts its own mass-casualty response to test its security and communication systems.
"We've done similar drills like this, but they've always been contained within the university; we've never gone out and partnered with other police departments and municipal agencies," said Ed Heim, Alvernia's director of security. "The last couple of years have been building up to this. We're trying to make this as realistic as possible to strengthen our systems."
Fifteen volunteers, some of them Alvernia staff, played the role of victims.
"We're doing it like we would do in a real situation," Heim said before the sound of gunshots erupted. "We want people to at least have some knowledge of what to expect when in a building and you hear gunshots, which sound different than anything you've ever heard. Occupants in the building have to make a decision to run, hide or fight."
Besides the city police and fire departments and campus security officers, two police departments—Cumru Township and West Reading's—took part in the exercise.
West Reading Chief Stephen Powell and Cumru Chief Madison Winchester said that they appreciated the opportunity for their officers to jointly train with the city police so everyone is on the same page.
They pointed out that there are other incidents the officers of all three departments handle together because of their proximity and cooperative relationships.
Powell said West Reading, for instance, will respond to any significant incident that would occur at settings such as Reading Hospital School of Health Sciences and Reading Public Museum, even though they're technically in Reading.
First Deputy Fire Chief Gary Mogel said the joint police/fire/EMS training in a mass shooting event is extremely valuable. There's a lot of coordination involved in assessing the victims and taking them to a triage area before they're sent to a medical facility.
"I think it's a good learning experience for all of us," Mogel said. "I think you have to be ahead of the curve in today's world."
Also wearing a vest to get close to the action was Dr. Edward B. Michalik, administrator of the Berks County Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities Program.
Michalik said the role of the mental health team in a mass shooting would be to assist in the reunification of victims with family members and assessing trauma responses of victims as well as first responders.