An armed gunman — a stranger — enters the facility and begins claiming victims as his own.
Although this event wasn’t real, 50 first responders from several local emergency teams were placed in an active shooter simulation Thursday at American Eagle, 1301 N. Davis Ave., Ottawa, as if it were.
Adam Weingartner, Ottawa’s assistant chief of police, said it’s the second time the agencies have come together to participate in a full-scale exercise such as this, complete with a simulated shooter, 911 call and dispatcher, victims and employees reacting to the chaotic situation. The first was last year at Ottawa University, 1001 S. Cedar St.
“The level of realism was particularly high for this training exercise,” he said.
Training included officers from the Ottawa Police Department, Ottawa Fire Department, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Franklin County Ambulance Service and Franklin County Emergency Management Office, as well as security staff and employees from American Eagle Outfitters.
A fully planned exercise is “extremely labor-intensive” and requires a lot of manpower, Weingartner said. Fifty American Eagle employees volunteered to act as characters within the exercise, he added.
“The Franklin County ambulance service stimulated wounds by putting makeup on the victims, and each of those victims had a tag which described their medical condition as if it were real-world, so then when the paramedics and the EMTs had to triage that particular wound injury, they would know what steps they needed to take to provide treatment,” Weingartner said. “So for instance, if it was a gunshot wound to the chest, it would look like a gunshot wound to the chest and they would have to react to that accordingly.”
Weingartner said the training included a stimulated shooter, and they reproduced the sound of gunfire by slapping two pieces of wood together.
“We do that just for a safety aspect because we don’t introduce anything that could be considered ammunition into the training environment for safety reasons,” he said. “That realism is the sound simulating gunfire that the employees have to react to. From there, the script stops and people have to respond to what’s in front of them. As soon as some of the employees heard the gunfire or saw victims being injured, they called 911.”
During the three-hour exercise, the agencies participating did not cease their normal operations, so the police, sheriff, fire and ambulance departments were still handling calls.
Two scenarios were played out for the day: The first being a stranger that entered the premises and began injuring employees from the outside, eventually moving their way into the facility. The second was a scenario where an employee inside was the simulated shooter.
The most important aspect of the exercise is to prepare staff to respond to an event of this magnitude — planning and training — and to hope that they never have to put those skills to the test with a tragic event.
“We work closely with those agencies every single day, and when we can all come together and work on the skill and scope of an exercise such as this, it’s only going to benefit us in the work that we do every single day, whether that’s injury traffic accidents, structure fire or a mass casualty event,” Weingartner said.