The blood was just make-up, the screams for help only feigned, and the gunman at the center of it all nonexistent, but the more than 150 participants involved in the Aug. 13 “Active Shooter/Mass Casualty Drill” at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) were taking their assigned duties very seriously.
The event was a multi-agency mock response that involved the CSULB University Police Department, the Long Beach Police Department, Long Beach Fire Department, St. Mary Medical Center, Lifeline EMS, Pacific College and several university departments joining together to apprehend a hypothetical shooter and treat would-be victims.
The focus of the exercise, according to the university, was primarily on the CSULB Student Health Center and its staff’s ability to perform triage in the field, but the exercise was also designed to test the communications of university personnel with external agencies, the media and the public.
Terri Carbaugh, CSULB associate vice president of Legislative and External Relations, was stationed at the check-in tent for the event. At 9:45 that morning, she was intently focused on a task on her cell phone but explained that her activity should not be misconstrued as rude; she and everyone else involved in the exercise were being observed by an evaluator team consisting of individuals from Long Beach Airport Emergency Management and Public Affairs, Long Beach Public Health Department, Long Beach Fire Department, Emergency Management Program professors from CSULB and police officers from multiple agencies.
Shortly thereafter, she had a free moment to provide some background information on the event, which she described as the culmination of months of preparation. “St. Mary Medical Center has been training our health-care professionals for about six months on proper field triage procedure,” Carbaugh said. “Our communications staff have been working for the past several months on how to appropriately notify people through the emergency-notification system. Today we tested our emergency-notification system that went out to about 17,000 people who are in our database. They received phone messages, email messages, text messages.”
That test also extended to the university’s website, as well as its Twitter feed and Facebook page, according to a press release issued by CSULB later that day.
Carbaugh stressed the importance of those affiliated with the campus to include themselves in the emergency-communications process. “It’s probably important for the public to know that the text-messaging system is an opt-in, so we encourage everybody who is a faculty, staff or student on campus to sign up for CSULB alerts so that, in the event that something like this happens, we can notify them immediately via text,” she said.
Carbaugh cited recent tragic incidents at other schools as impetuses for the drill. “If you look at the…Santa Monica shootings, the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, this has become a strong component of our overall emergency-preparedness plan,” she said. “So, just as we prepare for earthquakes, fires, floods, we’re now in preparation for active shooters on campus. A little bit of a different technique– it’s instantaneous and moves very quickly, whereas an earthquake, fire or flood, it might be over the span of several days. So, we’re really testing our system, our capacity, so that first-responders, our communicators, know what to do in advance to save lives.”
Amid the backdrop of screaming sirens and the flurry of organized chaos that morning, one of the pockets of activity was positioned on a large tarp just west of Parking Lot 7, where doctors, nurses and crisis counselors were triaging and treating the injured and the traumatized.
One of the numerous conversations that took place was between a female counselor and a man who had no apparent physical injuries but was clearly behaving as if he was in shock. His condition was also indicated by an information sheet attached to a laniard around his neck. After a medic had escorted the man to the tarp, where he was helped into a seated position, the counselor approached him, knelt down to meet his eye level and asked him, “Can I help you right now?” After he responded with “sure,” she told him, “I know the medical folks will be checking on you, but I just want to make sure that you’re okay. You look pretty shaken up; how are you doing?” He described what he’d witnessed and said he felt angry. “So you actually saw people getting shot,” she said, to which he replied, “Yeah. If there was more gun control, none of this would have happened.”
The counselor was sympathetic and empathetic in her words and manner, and she asked him if he’d be willing to talk to police to share information. He said he would be willing to do so and that he also wanted to contact his congressman. Then, Janice Braun, a radiologic technologist from the campus’s Student Health Center, and Kate Clark, a nurse practitioner who works for the university, arrived to also help him.
Many of the “victims” were actually student nurses from Pacific College in Costa Mesa. Lucille Sevigny, a nursing instructor from that college, was not actively taking part in the event, but she was one of the numerous observers on the sidelines that day. She helped in providing the nursing students to play the parts of those who were injured in the shooting. “We told them that [the drill] was available and that it offered clinical hours and that emergency response is an important part of what nursing is about,” Sevigny said. “We picked a class of term-four students– today’s their last day, so they’re going out into the community, they’re going out to jobs, they’re going to be working in hospitals. So they know now, first-hand, that– hopefully not– but if something like this should happen, they’ll have had some experience.”
She explained that each person playing a victim was given a backstory before the event and that the characters they played were not necessarily people similar to themselves. “You’re given a scenario– ‘Who are you? You’re a 56-year-old woman who was walking on the campus and got shot in the foot’– that kind of thing,” she said. “Then they act it out.”
Sevigny believes that using students from nursing programs provides a level of authenticity that can be helpful in the drill. “It’s nice to use student nurses because, if [they are supposed to] have a brain injury, they should know what to do with a brain injury,” she said.
Mentioning that her background is in psychiatric nursing, Sevigny said conducting these types of drills is important nowadays because potential perpetrators now have easy access to information on how to carry out their destructive plans, thanks to the media and Internet.
“Twenty, 25 years ago, you would hear people say, ‘I wonder how you do this or how you do that.’ Now you go on the Internet, and you can figure out how to make a bomb. You have a lot of copycats. You hear about what happened at Columbine, then you find out it happened at another school,” she said. “So, I think with TV, the Internet, and all that kind of stuff, some people who are– obviously you have to be mentally deranged to do something like this– now have access to how to do it.”
Sevigny said she thinks it’s not the violent ideas that are new, just the availability of instructional information. “When I first started practicing psychiatric nursing, people had all these wild ideas but no understanding or ability to figure out how to do it,” she said. “So that’s part of why we’re seeing an increase in the numbers. I don’t know that as a fact, but it seems that way to me, based on my experience.”
Another CSULB official who was at the drill was Signal Hill resident Jonathan Rosene, who is the emergency management and preparedness coordinator for the university. Relatively new to his title, Rosene was hired for that position in November of last year, after receiving a master’s degree from CSULB in emergency management administration and having worked with the University Police Department in other roles for five years.
Rosene said his goal is to make CSULB a disaster-resilient university and that it is drills such as the one Tuesday that make that goal possible. “The scenario involved an active shooter with mass casualties. We all wish that we didn’t have to prepare for such events, but it is a reality we face, and it cannot be ignored,” he stated in an email he sent the Signal Tribune after the event. “A major focus point of the exercise was the use of our CSULB Student Health Center and its staff’s ability to perform field triage in the event that outside first-responders are unable to get to the university quickly. Our staff, students, faculty and visitors should understand how seriously we take being prepared. By testing and honing our abilities, we become better prepared to respond to a range of hazards that we might face.”
Rosene said it is critical for the university to conduct drills with other responding agencies within the greater Long Beach area to learn from one another, develop relationships, and meet each other before a real disaster happens. He called Tuesday’s drill “a great success.”
“CSU Long Beach police officers responded to and neutralized the shooter within minutes of arriving on scene,” he said. “We triaged and transported 30 victims in various conditions and severity of injuries. We successfully sent an emergency notification message to over 13,000 students, staff and faculty on campus.”
Rosene said the drills aren’t expected to go perfectly and that, if they do, something went wrong. “We use experts and evaluators to help find those gaps so we can be better prepared for the real thing,” he said.
According to Rosene, the drill provided valuable information about the various agencies’ capabilities, limitations and available resources.
“It is incredible what comes out of simply getting agencies together to solve a common problem: tools, techniques, communication strategies and lessons learned from past experience, to name a few,” he said. “The greatest thing we learned is that we have a talented and incredibly capable group of first-responders and volunteers in this city, and I am more confident than ever that we can successfully respond to and recover from the hazards we face today.” ß