Exercise offers Clemson first responders practical, valuable experience
In 2012, Lt. Chris Harrington of the Clemson University Police Department (CUPD) was selected from a group of law enforcement officials throughout the state of South Carolina who were charged with developing a training program for dealing with an active shooter.
Just over a year later, following the Boston Marathon bombing, Lynn Fisher — emergency management director at the time — traveled to “Beantown” to learn how he could tailor Clemson University’s training to respond to a large-scale incident of that nature.
The intersection of both developments cannot be understated. Both were symbolic of Clemson’s unwavering commitment to collaboration and education as it pertained to campus safety. Those joint efforts came to a head Tuesday, March 19 when university first responders participated in an active shooter exercise.
Members of CUPD were joined by Fire and Emergency Medical Services, as well as officials from multiple local agencies, in the central part of Clemson’s campus while students were off enjoying spring break.
“The university carries on its business, regardless of whether or not we decide to conduct training,” Harrington said. “That’s why Daniel Hall was chosen as our location; it provided the least amount of intrusion because it is largely classroom-based.
“We wanted to be respectful of the campus environment, but at the same time be able to use free space for this important exercise.”
A long day began early in the morning, as role players made their way to Daniel Hall so moulage — the art of applying life-like injuries for the purpose of training emergency response teams — could be applied. A pair of healthcare simulation specialists — one from Arkansas and one from Iowa — were applying the moulage on site alongside Jennifer Thackston, a member of Clemson’s Fire/EMS team. Thackston connected with the duo through a professional development symposium hosted by SimGHOSTS, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting institutions operating medical simulation technology.
Role players ranged from students to faculty to staff, each volunteering to participate as first responders got a practical look at a situation designed to be as realistic as possible. Some carried visible wounds. Some utilized a bleeding simulation device that allows the casualty to control the amount of blood flow expected from the wound during the exercise, and to adjust the flow based on treatment interventions provided by responders. Others played the part of assailant or bystander. In all, more than 100 role players took part in the exercise.
“These role players had visible mock injuries the medical personnel needed to triage and make decisions on quickly,” said Greg Mullen, Clemson’s associate vice president for public safety and chief of police. “We tried to get the stress level up as high as we could, so our responders would be exposed to this type of unfortunate situation, should it ever occur.”
As the drill set to begin just after 10 a.m., Harrington was joined by co-exercise director Capt. Bill Shivar of Fire/EMS in the control room of an adjacent building. There, the two watched a live video feed of cameras from inside Daniel Hall as the drill unfolded.
By design, the playbook prompted a rush of incoming phone calls to Clemson’s dispatchers back at CUPD headquarters. The first of 16 exercise objectives — demonstrate the capability to handle large volume call processing — was underway. As officers responded to radio communications, some of which were purposely designed to provide misinformation, the exercise began to take shape.
But officials weren’t simply practicing the ability to respond to calls in an active shooter situation. They were practicing the integration of teams into what is known as a rescue task force.
“We obviously wanted to test our response capabilities, but we also wanted to test how we integrate law enforcement with our partners from Fire/EMS into the equation,” Mullen said. “Typically in these situations, it may be 30 or 45 minutes before a building is cleared by law enforcement, all the while medical response is waiting outside.”
As difficult as Harrington found it to step back from his job, he listened intently to radio traffic as the scenario played itself out. He, too, stressed the need for a more efficient integration of resources.
“Once we confronted and stopped an active threat, I was looking to answer, ‘Did we provide the type of venue security control and casualty assessment for our first responders?’” Harrington said. “We now understand a significant portion of our losses of life don’t come from the action itself, but from not receiving adequate medical care quickly enough. We can provide tactical medical care in that warm zone. We also were practicing getting medical personnel into the environment as rapidly as possible, while providing the proper security for them, because they were unarmed.”
This multi-disciplinary approach sees an initial law enforcement response enter the location, assess the threat, and then once it is contained, a second wave of law enforcement and medical personnel come in behind to begin treatment on any critical injuries.
Because of its unique setup providing service to both Clemson University and the city of Clemson, the Fire/EMS teams have shown an unflappable commitment to its partnership with law enforcement in the event a rescue task force is deployed. Chief Bill Daniel’s department has trained diligently the past few years to use Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC), which teaches EMS practitioners how to respond and care for patients in a civilian tactical environment.
Shortly after the response teams moved into Daniel Hall, an incident commander arrived on the scene within minutes and set up a mobile command post from the tailgate of a pickup truck. There, he processed information from the radio chatter and made decisions on the additional allotment of resources. In all, the scenario lasted about 80 minutes until a determination was made to “remove the campus lockdown.”
Everyone involved in the exercise took part in a “hot wash” discussion immediately afterward, while a large-scale group of planners and controllers met for an after-action review a few weeks later to discuss takeaways from the drill.
Though he has not even been at Clemson for a full year yet, Mullen came away pleased with the progress he saw from his team.
“The public safety entities at Clemson have been working on this for several years, so we’re ahead of the curve,” he said. “We received some really good feedback from the controllers who were on site, and we also know there are things to work on that we need to correct as we move forward.”
Sarah Custer is also newer to Clemson’s team, joining the staff last summer following Fisher’s retirement as the emergency management lead. She and Deputy Emergency Manager Mary Erin Morrissey were intimately involved in the planning of the exercise as well.
Custer came away impressed with Clemson’s collaborative approach to ensuring the safest possible campus for students, faculty, staff and visitors — even in a simulated scenario.
“I was observing from the incident command post during the event, and the link-up between our teams was impressive,” she said. “It’s clear there’s an incredible relationship between CUPD and our Fire/EMS departments, and that’s a great credit to everyone involved.”