Active shooter drill on Grays Harbor College campus Saturday

More than a hundred first responders participated

More than 100 police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel participated in an active shooter drill at Grays Harbor College Saturday morning.

The fictional scenario: A man tried to take his child out of the day care center on the western edge of campus and is refused permission to do so. He pulls out a gun and opens fire, then flees across the campus between the library and the Schermer Building, eventually entering the 200 Building near the HUB, leaving a trail of dead and wounded along his path.

The sound of several shots indicated the start of the drill. Two Aberdeen officers were first to arrive and swiftly made their way toward the building, guns drawn, scanning in all directions. They were met by several others who grouped together tightly and entered the building, quickly locating and shooting the suspect. Soon the campus was flooded with emergency responders, tending to actors portraying the wounded and dead. The not wounded were quickly ushered out of the area by heavily armed officers, hands above their heads.

Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers, who served as public information officer alongside Aberdeen officer Lt. Kevin Darst, explained the first officers on the scene are trained to focus on neutralizing the immediate threat. One “victim” was in a bus stop alongside the Schermer Building and cursed a blue streak as the initial officers ignored his cries for help.

Myers said once the threat is either taken down or barricaded, a “warm zone” is created, an area around the shooter not necessarily cleared but deemed safe for medical personnel to tend to the wounded. The warm zone was established in a matter of minutes at Saturday’s drill.

After the drill, when adjacent buildings were cleared and the wounded whisked away in ambulances to Grays Harbor Community Hospital, Myers and Darst talked about the drill and how the officers and responders performed.

One issue was confirming that there was a single shooter. Officers were observed asking the team of officers in the 200 Building to confirm that there was just the one shooter, and the response was “Crickets,” said Myers. “Nobody wants to be the one who gives the all clear only to have another shooter jump out of a closet.”

Also, when firefighters arrive on the scene, the one in charge is supposed to go “patch-to-patch” with the lead law enforcement officer, meaning they are quite literally standing shoulder to shoulder and remain that way throughout the incident. At one point during the drill, the two were separated, which can lead to communications problems.

“We’re on two different radio frequencies,” said Myers, as to why patch-to-patch is so important.

While called an active shooter drill, Myers said the same tactics are used with any other type of weapon.

“It applies to any person armed with easily accessible victims and the intent to cause harm,” he said.

Medical responders entering the warm zone will set up a triage center. Each victim requires about a 4-foot by 8-foot patch of ground for “down and dirty triage,” said Myers. “We’re not treating them at the scene,” he said. “You assess the victim, get them stabilized and get them out.”

Myers recommended observers watch a video on YouTube called Run, Hide, Fight, which shows viewers the best way to protect yourself in an active shooter situation.

“When someone is trying to take your life, all bets are off,” he said. He said the best option, when available, is to leave in the opposite direction of the shooter as fast as you possibly can. Finding a good hiding spot is another option, but can leave you vulnerable if you are found.

“You ever try to hit a moving target? It’s not easy,” said Myers, punctuating the need to flee immediately.

If all else fails, fight. Grab a fire extinguisher, something you can use as a weapon and take the threat on head-first. Risky, but better to go down swinging than just present yourself as an easy victim. It becomes an every man for himself type of situation, and you shouldn’t call 911 until you feel you are a safe distance from the shooter. A word of warning from Myers: to keep the 5-minute video authentic, it can be very graphic at times.

Personnel from Montesano, Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Cosmopolis were joined by others from Lewis and Mason counties, Ocean Shores, Westport, McCleary, the Sheriff’s Office and the Quinault and Skokomish tribes for the drill, which was conducted twice Saturday.