Vol­un­teers turn out for ac­tive shooter drill

Nearly 6 months after Cap­i­tal Gazette at­tack, res­i­dents want to be pre­pared

The Capital - - FRONT PAGE - By Lil­lian Reed

Gary Mathis held out his arm Thurs­day as a mem­ber of the Anne Arun­del County Fire De­part­ment painted the left side of his chest with thick, red makeup to give him the ap­pear­ance of hav­ing a gun­shot wound.

The fake blood and gel sat atop a scar he al­ready had from his pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence as a fire­fighter. Mathis wasn’t phased by the wound and snapped a photo to send to his wife.

He had seen graphic in­juries be­fore on the job and re­marked how the makeup re­minded him of a woman he once helped who had been shot by a sniper.

“Hon­estly that’s why I’m here,” he said from the stag­ing room of a large-scale ac­tive shooter drill in An­napo­lis. “I wanted to see how I’d re­spond and what I’d do when I’m on the vic­tim side.”

Mathis and dozens of vol­un­teers came out to the J. Al­bert Adams Academy to par­take in one of the city’s largest ac­tive shooter drills in re­cent mem­ory, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials be­hind the ex­er­cise. Many of the vol­un­teers cited the June 28 shoot­ing at the Cap­i­tal Gazette news­room as their rea­son for tak­ing part.

For more than three hours, mul­ti­ple lo­cal, county and state emer­gency ser­vice and law en­force­ment agen­cies tested their abil­ity to re­spond in a po­ten­tially chaotic set­ting. The ex­er­cise in­cluded a faux ac­tive shooter in­side a school build­ing full of vol­un­teer vic­tims.

Some of the vol­un­teers wore fake blood and wounds, called “moulage,” and bar­ri­caded them­selves in rooms while the pops of pre­tend gun­fire rang through the halls.

“To have real peo­ple scream­ing for help makes a dif­fer­ence,” said David Man­dell, the city deputy di­rec­tor of emer­gency man­age­ment. “To have a re­al­is­tic sit­u­a­tion like this is the best train­ing you can do be­cause of the re­la­tion­ships that are de­vel­oped.”

The drill is the sec­ond phase of a four-part train­ing se­ries that be­gin the spring, said Kevin Sim­mons, city di­rec­tor of emer­gency man­age­ment.

Po­lice and fire of­fi­cials, along with Sim­mons’ de­part­ment, com­pleted the first phase of the train­ing — a smaller drill in a va­cant li­brary — one week prior to the June shoot­ing at the Cap­i­tal Gazette news­room in An­napo­lis.

Sim­mons be­lieves that train­ing made a dif­fer­ence in their abil­ity to re­spond to the news­room shoot­ing, which left five peo­ple dead and two in­jured. Al­leged shooter Jar­rod W. Ramos, 38, of Lau­rel, is await­ing trial sched­uled for June 3.

The Cap­i­tal Gazette shoot­ing was in the back of Krista Wal­lach’s mind when she signed up to be one of about 50 pre­tend bystanders and vic­tims dur­ing the drill.

“It hap­pened in our back­yard, so it’s im­por­tant to be pre­pared,” Wal­lach said. “I think so many vol­un­teers are here to­day be­cause of what hap­pened.”

Some vol­un­teers com­pli­mented one an­other on a mock blood­ied fin­ger or took self­ies of their fake head wounds be­fore board­ing trol­leys that took them to the site of the ex­er­cise.

“Have fun,” Sim­mons said to the vol­un­teers be­fore they headed to the drill site.

Still, the ca­sual jokes and light laugh­ter quickly sub­sided as peo­ple were or­ga­nized into three sep­a­rate groups that would soon be bar­ri­caded in sep­a­rate rooms while po­lice cleared hall­ways and prac­ticed tac­ti­cal strate­gies.

Of­fi­cials gave each vol­un­teer a card bear­ing a stop sign and the words “Help. Real Emer­gency.” If a vol­un­teer be­came too un­com­fort­able in the heat of the drill, a wave of the card gave them an op­por­tu­nity for the ex­er­cised to be paused and to step out­side.

Jonathan Hut­son vol­un­teered to be a part of the moulage group, which wore the­atri­cal makeup sim­u­lat­ing gun­shot wounds. Per­son­nel from the county fire de­part­ment red goop above his right eye, cre­at­ing the ap­pear­ance of a round bul­let hole. A trail of red curved down the side of his nose and around his eye.

Hut­son held his phone up and snapped a selfie to send to his 10-year-old son, who he said had re­quested an im­age. How­ever, the photo would not be go­ing on so­cial me­dia out of re­spect for friends who might feel trig­gered by the im­age, Hut­son said.

Hut­son is a strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant who oc­ca­sion­ally of­fers his ser­vices pro bono to the fam­i­lies of those who were in a mass shoot­ing.

“It is vis­ceral and emo­tional know­ing that many of my close friends have lost loved ones in mass shoot­ings across Amer­ica,” he said.

The shoot­ing at the Cap­i­tal Gazette news­room hit close to home, vol­un­teer De­bra Good­win said, grip­ping the card that al­lowed her to stop the ex­er­cise.

“Be­tween the sounds and the moulage, it makes it seem real,” Good­win said. “It’s nice to have a safety net be­cause I don’t know how I’m go­ing to re­spond.”

Dur­ing the drill, po­lice of­fi­cers car­ried sim­u­la­tion guns and am­mu­ni­tion. Mem­bers of Anne Arun­del County’s De­part­ment of So­cial Ser­vices prac­ticed set­ting up a fam­ily re­u­ni­fi­ca­tion cen­ter at the nearby Mary­land Hall for the Cre­ative Arts. Pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cers staged a mock news con­fer­ence to dis­sem­i­nate de­tails about the ac­tive shooter.

Cam­eras were set up in hall­ways to cap­ture the en­tire drill. In the com­ing weeks, law en­force­ment of­fi­cials will re­view the footage and then dis­cuss whether im­prove­ments can be made, Sim­mons said.

“Ev­ery time we have a full-scale demon­stra­tion, we grow it,” he said.

The third and fourth phases of train­ing are sched­uled for spring and fall in 2019, re­spec­tively, Sim­mons said.

PHO­TOS BY BRIAN KRISTA/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

Lt. John Shoe­maker with the Anne Arun­del County Fire De­part­ment ap­plies fake blood to the arm of vol­un­teer Deb­bie Wil­liamson as fel­low vol­un­teer vic­tim Jonathan Hut­son looks on while pre­par­ing for an ac­tive shooter drill in An­napo­lis on Thurs­day.

Kevin Sim­mons, di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Emer­gency Man­age­ment for An­napo­lis, briefs the vol­un­teer vic­tims as they pre­pare for the ex­er­cise.

PHO­TOS BY BRIAN KRISTA/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

Gary Mathis, right, pres­i­dent of the East­port Vol­un­teer Fire Com­pany, is dressed with a chest wound as he talks with fel­low vic­tim vol­un­teer Krista Wal­lach with the West An­napo­lis Vol­un­teer Fire Com­pany be­fore an ac­tive shooter drill in An­napo­lis on Thurs­day.

Deb­bie Wil­liamson, of Har­wood, holds up her wound card after hav­ing the fake in­juries dressed while pre­par­ing for the ex­er­cise.

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