PRCC conducts training exercise

Published 3:24 pm Friday, June 20, 2008

Law enforcement and emergency agencies learned valuable lessons yesterday in responding to an “active shooting” scenario on the campus of Pearl River Community College.

Doug Rowell, head of Pearl River Community College’s campus police force, said the emergency mock incident exercise tested the readiness of the unit to respond to emergencies. It also located weaknesses in the unit’s response and judged area law enforcement and emergency agencies’ assistance efforts.

The results of the exercise will allow Rowell and the department to re-evaluate their procedures and make necessary changes and improvements.

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The exercise began at 9:25 a.m. with activation of the campus Emergency Mass Notification System in response to an active shooter alert in one of the campus dormitories. Shortly after, on another part of the campus, an explosion and white cloud could be seen from a portable classroom. Both scenarios were geared to student and PRCC staff involvement.

As the exercise unfolded Rowell said better communication emerged as one of the primary issues that needed to be addressed, a point raised in subsequent critiques by several observers. Another problem was a weak command structure during the incident and proper control of the crime scene.

Kris Foster, Poplarville Fire Chief, said someone should be in initial command of the event and that was not clear in the early stages of the exercise.

An observer from Homeland Security said there was good information obtained from one of the downed individuals but that communication attempts to the shooter were as much as 15 minutes or more in being initiated. Also, the released hostages were not used as an information source about the shooter and his surroundings.

Danny Manley, Pearl River County Emergency Management Director, said the command center needs to have information funneled to it and a white message board should be used as a focal point for that information.

Several other areas touched on in the briefing were that EMT personnel were allowed into a “hot zone”; lack of a clear chain of command; unclear staging areas for media, family and onlookers; and access to proper protective and safety gear for all responders. It was also noted that not all the campus police were at the training exercise, as night shift personnel could just as likely to be faced with such an emergency situation.

Rowell said he hoped to get the entire department involved in active shooter training.

Dr. William Lewis, president of the college, said the college had committed five years ago to address campus security and that a plan had been laid out over the last several years to begin dealing with these issues.

“God help us if we ever have to face something like this,” Lewis said.

Units participating in the exercise, in addition to campus security, were the Poplarville Police Department, Picayune Police Department, Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department, Poplarville Fire Department and Triple A Ambulance and Homeland Security.

Cadets from the Poplarville Police Jr. Police Academy participated in the exercise by role-playing students involved in the scenarios. The academy is currently holding its classes on the PRCC campus.

Jones Community College, Itawamba Community College and Gulf Coast Community College all sent observers to the exercise. The Jones’ observer said that school had a similar exercise planned for July.