LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Active shooter drills urge people to be proactive in real life scenarios

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

A barrage of bullets inside New Jersey City University walls. The guns and injuries aren’t real, but the active shooter drill is designed to look eerily so.

“The whole goal today is to work together and learn how to work together, and run into different scenarios while we’re in training before we, God forbid, have to do it in real life,” said James Shea, director of public safety in Jersey City.

This is the first time Jersey City is bringing together all assets — police, fire, EMS — and partnering with Homeland Security and the Jersey City Office of Emergency Management to run through an active shooter scenario. The drill uses staff and students from the NJCU School of Business and an outside contractor to provide cutting-edge training.

“What we want you to take away is that there’s going to be a time delay between when they get to you, and you’ve going to learn now to be your own 911,” said Bill Harris, director of emergency medicine for Tomahawk Strategic Solutions.

As mass tragedies like the Parkland school or Texas church shootings become a reality of life, public safety departments are changing their tactics, both for law enforcement and citizens.

“What he’s teaching us is not just huddle under a desk, or just lock yourself in a room, or run into the bathroom. Those are places that have no escape at all, and the group here has told us that they’ve found people huddled under their desks with their heads covered, or in the bathroom where there’s no exit. So he’s teaching us awareness. He’s teaching us how to fight back,” said NJCU School of Business Director of Community Outreach Gail Marquis.

“Know what your escape routes are, look at your office, find out what equipment or furniture you can put to deny access to your location,” said Joseph Collins, Tomahawk Strategic Solutions senior instructor.

“We talk about people trying to self-evacuate, and if they can’t then trying to conceal themselves if they can’t try and fight. It’s getting different as we see failures among some of the things we’ve taught in the past,” said Jersey City Department of Public Safety Director James Shea.

Inside, police sweep the building for potential threats. Victims are treated in real time instead of waiting for police activity to end. Students and employees kept in lockdown or safely evacuated outside to a triage area for wound assessment.

“With what’s going on in the country I believe its super important that every student, even if you’re not a student, you know what to do in a situation like this,” said NJCU School of Business student Blandine Kaneh.

According to Everytown Reaseach, there have been 16 intentional school shootings resulting in injury or death since the start of 2018. And in New Jersey, schools have conducted over 800 unannounced drill observations.

The state Department of Education requires monthly school security drills. The specifics are largely left to each district to decide, but do include bomb evacuations, lock downs and active shooters on campus. The difference now is law enforcement wants you to take a more proactive role and fight back.

“Just today I have a much greater awareness of my surroundings, my exit route, again, whether I’m at the university, at a restaurant, even church. I’m in a room, I’m in a setting, what’s my exit route,” said Marquis.

“I think today it’s a learning experience for all that we see daily around the world with these events occurring and we have to be prepared to deal with,” said Jersey City Director of Emergency Management W. Greg Kierce.

So there’s one less casualty, one more life spared.