Training for the worst

The plates next to the salad bar in Cascade Food Court are piled high next to containers of carrots, broccoli and lettuce awaiting the student lunch rush at Southern Oregon University.

Outside the door in the hallway that leads into Glacier Hall, the lights of vending machines buzz and their engines hum.

But what would've been a normal day at SOU turns into tragedy Wednesday under a scenario designed to train agencies on how to respond to one of law enforcement's greatest fears: a shooter on campus.

The shooter enters Glacier Hall, fires rounds and takes a hostage. Students are injured. Emergency personnel care for the wounded while police search the dormitory, room by room, for the shooter. Campus officials instantly send out messages to email addresses and cellphones advising students and faculty: "Active shooter at Glacier Hall on SOU campus. Going into lockdown, stay away from area."

The drill included personnel from Ashland police, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, Talent and Phoenix police, Medford police, university police, Ashland Fire & Rescue, chaplains and a mental health officer, among others.

All hoped it's training they won't ever have to use.

"Unfortunately, things like this happen," said Jim Beaver, the school's director of interactive marketing and media relations. "We hope it never does (here), but we're responsible to be ready if it does."

Other scenarios threw wrinkles into the mix: an officer injury, a frightened student grasping a knife, deployment of the Medford SWAT team.

None of the responders knew details of the scenarios ahead of time. Ashland police Chief Terry Holderness said there is no way to train for each situation that may arise in an incident, so different developments are included.

"We train to be flexible," he said. "It's never the same thing."

Responders must think and act quickly.

"This whole situation is over usually in 10 minutes," said Charlie Phenix, an emergency management specialist who was contracted by the university to coordinate Wednesday's drill.

An initial responding police officer's first task is to find the shooter and stop him from firing any more rounds — either by shooting or capturing him, according to an information sheet at the drill.

Police then work out in a growing circle. They find those close to the shooter, and then citizens in the area. Next, they deal with the safety of police officers and finally secure the area.

"The protocol is to go after the shooter first thing, and then go back from there," Phenix said.

The effort is multi-layered. A crisis management team works from an emergency operations center on campus; a public information officer releases approved information to news organizations; medical services arrive and prepare to treat the wounded; Ashland Community Hospital's emergency room is notified to be prepared for incoming patients.

"This (training) is for those times when you don't have time because someone is injuring people and you have to go in immediately," Holderness said.

Strategies for dealing with shooters on campus have changed since the Columbine, Colo., shooting in 1999, Holderness said. Back then, police did not immediately seek out shooters but waited for SWAT to arrive.

Anne E. Kellogg, the executive director of the Chiron Center, which offers responder education, support and resources, was on the scene of the recent shootings in Santa Monica, Calif., in which a gunman went on a spree through the city. It ended at Santa Monica Community College, where he was shot by police. Five people plus the shooter died.

Kellogg, a mental health counselor, said the scene was chaotic. Two public buses were filled with those affected by the shooting, and the FBI interviewed them before they were released to counselors or to go home, she said.

"Most folks do well," she said. They turn to their peers, faculty, spiritual guides and communities to rally each other, she said.

She has worked in Los Angeles for 20 years, where she has counseled those involved in shooter incidents. Though an occurrence may never happen at SOU, she said Wednesday it is a good idea to be ready.

"They are choosing to be prepared," she said.

Vince Tweddell is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at

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