Active-shooter emergency response exercise concludes 'Operation Education Safe Haven'

At exactly 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 21, blue emergency lights flashed, sirens rang throughout the campus within minutes and the first gunshots were heard on the east-side of Rhode Island College.

Providence and Rhode Island state policemen rush into Building 2 at the beginning of the simulation exercise.
The gunshots, simulated by an air-horn in Building 2, were immediately followed by an announcement over the emergency sound system across the college. “This is a drill. In event of an actual emergency, these machines will be activated and instructions will be given,” was repeated three times.

The active-shooter simulation was the last in a series of “Operation Education Safe Haven,” events. The final operation was an exercise created to allow federal and state officials and other participants a chance to observe and evaluate an active-shooter response scenario.

Photo Gallery for the "Operation Education Safe Haven" event

Those involved were required to respond to the exercise events and information as if the emergency were real. URI’s Kingston campus and UMass Dartmouth also participated in the full-scale exercise simultaneously.

College campuses across the country are constantly subject to emergency situations, and recent shootings – such as at Virginia Tech in 2007 – have caused college administrators and other officials to assess or update emergency procedures as well as create new ones.

In early March, RIC kicked off “Operation Education Safe Haven” with a Rhode Island Higher Education Preparedness Series seminar focusing on the importance of leadership responsibility during a crisis, the importance of emergency management and campus safety.

RIC President Nancy Carriuolo was prompted to test the emergency system after attending a workshop in Boston run by URI’s National Institute for Public Safety, Research and Training which examined several campus and community emergency response plans in the northeast, and how they prevented and responded to threats of violence.

One RIC student appeared to have a bullet lodged in his leg to simulate an actual shooting.
The urgency to test the system increased following the unexpected flooding in Rhode Island last spring, said Carriuolo.

RIC, named the second safest campus in New England according to The Daily Beast news website, is the first higher education institution in Rhode Island to undertake this type of exercise.

During the shooter simulation activity, emergency messages were transmitted via various emergency notification systems as state and Providence police officers rushed inside the building with their weapons raised (though not loaded) as if the events were part of a real emergency. Other officers continued to search the area around Building 2 for a potential shooter.

Other participating agencies and organizations at the event included Homeland Security; Providence Fire and Rescue units; state and federal emergency management agencies; and RIC campus police. Several officers and vehicles from each agency were dispatched to the college to participate in the exercise.

RIC theatre students were recruited to play the roles of victims and bystanders. Some wore make-up to play the part more effectively. Two females had their faces decorated with blood and bruises and one male appeared to have a bullet stuck in his leg.

All actors were required to wear orange “victim tags” describing their symptoms and roles if applicable.

The final stage of Operation Safe Haven lasted approximately two hours. Around noon, all participants exited the building, and were met with cheers and applause from observers.

A hot wash – a debriefing event held for those involved to express their opinions about exercise – was coordinated after the event for all officials, participants and evaluators to offer feedback about issues that could have been handled differently, and suggestions for possible future improvements.