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California State University, Northridge runs security drill simulating gunman scenario

December 20, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
The shooting in Connecticut is sparking gun control and school safety debates all across the country. Schools and college campuses are taking a close look at their security measures, including California State University, Northridge, which took part in a special drill on Thursday.

It marks the fifth time that Cal State Northridge police and other law enforcement agencies have taken part in such a major drill. While it was just a drill, the officers say they can very well find themselves in a similar, real-life situation.

In the drill scenario, the officers were trying to track down a gunman firing shots inside the National Center on Deafness at CSUN before more victims were wounded or killed.

"I know it's training. I know it's practice. I know it's not real, but my heart rate is elevated and I have to treat it real," said Officer Nick Flores with the Los Angeles School Police Department.

During Thursday's drill, Flores and officers from Simi Valley police found the suspect holding a student hostage. They killed the gunman and eliminated the threat. James King played the role of the hostage and said it felt like a real life-or-death situation.

The drill was planned well in advance of the Connecticut school massacre. The Los Angeles Police Department, the California Highway Patrol and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department all took part in the drill to practice working together. They gained new insight on responding to an emergency involving victims who are hearing impaired.

"They just spoke to us right away immediately, automatically assuming that we were hearing, but they continued to speak and we gave them a confused look, or there was no response," said CSUN student Danielle Berman through a sign-language interpreter.

Officer Jeff Takeda with Simi Valley police said that at one point during the drill, he had to write his messages to the hearing-impaired students to communicate with them.

"It was challenging. It definitely slowed down the response a little bit," said Takeda.

Cal State Northridge President Dianne Harrison observed the training. She said she hopes the university never has to respond to a gunman on campus or the loss of life.

"We don't know when or if something will happen. Preparation is the key," said Harrison.

The drill came about a week after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman opened fire and killed 20 students, all 6 or 7 years old, and 6 adults. The shooter, identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, also allegedly shot and killed his mother before going on the shooting spree.

Also fresh in our minds is the lockdown at California State University, Fullerton. Students were in classrooms and their dorms for eight hours while police searched for two suspects on campus, who were wanted for a shooting and a robbery at a jewelry store.

Police said they erred on the side of caution, explaining why it was such a lengthy lockdown. All the buildings on campus were searched, but there were no signs of the suspects, who got away.

After the CSUN training exercise, the officers were evaluated on what they can do differently from a tactical standpoint and on what they did well.

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