A lone gunman is in the building, multiple people have been injured and the suspect is armed with semi-automatic handguns and extra ammunition. It’s up to law enforcement and emergency responders to evacuate the injured and subdue the gunman – all at the same time.
That’s the scenario that played out at UC Merced on Saturday morning as multiple Merced County law enforcement and emergency response agencies trained together on protocol and response for violent incidents.
About 50 role-players acted as student witnesses and victims while paramedics and firefighters teamed up with police officers and deputies.
Agencies that participated included the California Highway Patrol, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office, the Atwater and Merced police departments, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Riggs Ambulance Service, Merced College, Merced County and city fire departments, California State Parks and the Merced County Probation Department.
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“We’re preparing for an incident no one wants to go to,” said Jeremy Rahn, coordinator for the Merced County Office of Emergency Services.
The training comes less than a year after a UC Merced freshman from Santa Clara, Faisal Mohammad, entered his morning class with a 10-inch knife, a backpack filled with zip-tie handcuffs, duct tape and, in his pocket, a point-by-point script for a deadly attack, law enforcement told reporters.
Unfortunately, we had one of these incidents in November. Many of you showed up here.
UC Merced Police Chief Albert Vasquez to a group of trainees
The 18-year-old computer science student wounded four people before being killed by campus police on Nov. 4.
“Unfortunately, we had one of these incidents in November,” UC Merced Police Chief Albert Vasquez told the group of trainees Saturday morning. “Many of you showed up here.”
The main object of the training, and in real-life circumstances, is to rescue patients and get them to a trauma center as soon as possible, Rahn said.
Trainings for violent incidents have become necessary and common practice since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
About three years ago, Merced County law enforcement officials, fire chiefs and EMS directors decided the county needed guidelines on how to respond to these incidents with all county agencies, Rahn said. Since then, Merced County’s Office of Emergency Services received training at the state level and has instructed more than 800 county emergency responders in the last year.
On Saturday, the role players stationed themselves in the UC Merced Social Science and Management Building. Some were injured, others called for help, and one was the shooter. A task force isolated the shooter while paramedics, escorted by law enforcement, rescued patients and evacuated the building.
The collaborative training is important, Vasquez said, so that if a violent incident does occur, law enforcement and emergency personnel recognize each other and there are adequate resources to respond.
Strategies have changed over the years as well, Vasquez said, as wars in the Middle East have helped improve tactical medicine.
“Before, law enforcement would come in and neutralize the situation and then call fire and EMT in. Now, we try to integrate it and work together as one group,” he said.
The training also served as good practice for the Atwater High School drama department, whose students participated as role-players.
Maui Millan, 17, said assisting with the training helps improve her acting skills. “It’s part of what we learn in our fist year in drama,” she said, her shirt torn and bloody makeup on her face and stomach. “It’s extra practice so we can get our acting skills better.”
Plus, the training gave Millan an added sense of respect for emergency responders. “It makes me thankful,” she said. “Their work is a lot harder than people think. They have to work under pressure. I admire what they do.”
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477