About 200 first responders from numerous Brazos County agencies practiced subduing a threat, treating wounded, assisting in evacuations, informing the public and reuniting loved ones during an emergency response exercise Wednesday at Blinn College’s Bryan campus.
Two exercises, each involving a mock active shooter and about 30-40 volunteers portraying victims/bystanders, were conducted. First responders also took part in roundtable discussions and meetings during which they received instruction from experts. Some in attendance have had hands-on experience, as they responded to the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting.
“It’s good to have these exercises, because we can see officers’ reactions when they run in to [these situations],” said Blinn police Chief John Chancellor. “We can address any issues, and if we see that an officer doesn’t seem capable of doing that, we find something else for them to do.”
The exercise included members of nearly all Brazos County law enforcement agencies, the Department of Public Safety, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Brazos County, Washington County and Texas A&M offices of Emergency Management, the county health department, Bryan city fire marshals, the Brazos Valley Council of Governments, both city fire departments, two local hospitals and Brazos County dispatchers. Some members of the Texas Army National Guard also were on scene to assist. The Blinn College District Police Department conducted a similar large-scale effort at Blinn’s Brenham campus last year, but 2019 marks the first year such an exercise has been orchestrated in Bryan.
“Departments usually go through one or two [active shooter exercises], but we asked all the local agencies who could participate to come here, and every agency responded,” said Blinn PD Assistant Chief Jennifer Taylor, who helped coordinate the training. “... We are doing this because we [Blinn PD] wouldn’t be just going in alone. All these officers in the county will be together, and we don’t know who will [arrive] here first. The best you can do is train together.”
According to Chancellor, officers are trained first to neutralize the threat, as police departments nationwide have learned from the mistakes made from active shooter attacks in the past. Chancellor noted that most of the officers at Wednesday’s event have already learned how to clear a room for a potential threat. Wednesday’s lessons in particular focused on communication and coordination between agencies and officers. The scenarios also accounted for the need to disperse updates to local media and to establish a reunification area for victims and their loved ones.
Blinn College staff member Samantha Johnson, director of disability services and counseling, volunteered her acting skills on Wednesday and portrayed an injured victim hiding in the closet of a classroom. Officers were able to locate her, determine she was not a threat and evacuate her.
Johnson said that the college’s faculty and staff are educated by the school on how they should react and assist their students in case a dangerous situation arises on campus. Students, faculty and staff all have the ability to sign up online for the Blinn Alert System at www.blinn.edu/alert/, which would notify them electronically in case of an emergency. Many of those who attend Blinn’s classes have already received some instruction on active shooter safety practices via high school
“In my role doing mental health counseling, we have a lot of students generally experiencing anxiety, since they’re doing college academics for the first time,” she said. “But I’ve never had students fearful of an active shooter, because the police presence here is so great.”