By Dane Gibson
To the Vancouver Island University students and staff taking part in RCMP training exercises on Nanaimo campus, the blanks that were fired sounded real and the officers storming the classroom who were shouting, “Get down, get down, get down!” did, too.
The training took place on Feb. 17 and included 30 RCMP officers and 25 Vancouver Island University student and staff volunteers. During the exercises, four real-world scenarios played out in a locked-down building on the Nanaimo campus. Erin Bascom, VIU's health and safety advisor, coordinated with the RCMP to make the exercises happen.
“Thanks to these drills, we will now improve our planning to better assist the RCMP with their responses to emergencies on VIU campuses, which is a benefit to the VIU community,” said Bascom. “This was a very positive experience for us and we hope to continue to work with the RCMP on future exercises that will involve our students, faculty and staff.”
Bascom says VIU is now, and has historically always been, a very safe environment for both students and staff. Part of making sure the campus remains that way is ensuring safety plans and procedures are current.
“Participating in drills like this is about being prepared and having a plan we can implement if a situation arises that requires it,” said Bascom. “We will continue to participate in training exercises like this to ensure the University’s institutional response protocol is up-to-date and effective.”
Sgt. Paul Minkley, RCMP Island District Emergency Response Team leader, says the primary goals of the training exercises, which have never been done before at VIU, were to foster a better understanding of the response protocols of both VIU and the RCMP to an active threat incident and to prepare the RCMP to respond to such an incident wherever it might occur.
“This was about having a realistic training environment where members of the Nanaimo RCMP and the RCMP Island District ERT could practise active threat responses,” said Minkley. “We designed the scenarios to address active threat situations, such as a person showing up with a weapon with the intent to harm multiple people. Some of the scenarios involved the subject barricading himself in a room with hostages, requiring a transition from active threat response to negotiations and hostage rescue.”
Jaeneane MacGillivray, VIU social cciences faculty assistant, was a volunteer in the exercises.
“We were briefed about what was going to happen and encouraged to fully embrace our roles. It was amazing how quickly everyone got into their roles and how intense everyone’s feelings were – both the ERT members and volunteers.”
In the first active shooter exercise MacGillivray was with a group of volunteers in a classroom when she heard the ‘shooter’ (who was a student volunteer from the criminology department) coming down the hallway.
“The ERT officers were shouting and we could hear guns going off. Some of us turned desks up to try and hide behind them. The shooter burst into our room and following right behind were the ERT members who took him down,” said MacGillivray. “The main insight I had is just how little time there is to make decisions in an active shooting situation.”
VIU's Nanaimo campus has more than 50 buildings and hundreds of students and staff present on any given day. The training exercises are to ensure that the RCMP are familiar with the campus and its emergency response protocols.
“Response to active threat incidents are the highest risk aspect of a police officer’s job so experience with handling these situations in a realistic environment is invaluable,” said Minkley. “Police responding to such situations must be able to anticipate what other responding officers will do in order to have an effective, coordinated response.”
Dane Gibson is a writer with VIU's communications department.