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Utah law enforcement and emergency services train for active shooter situations

SALT LAKE CITY — Law enforcement and emergency agencies gathered Tuesday at Salt Lake Community College to take part in an active shooter drill inside the school.

The officers trained with realistic gunshot noises, simulated ammunition and hostage situations. The victims in the simulation consisted of volunteers, including theater students who helped create simulated wounds with makeup.

"It’s as real as we can make it without putting safety in jeopardy," said Sgt. Nicholas Street, public information officer with the Utah Highway Patrol.

The simulation also included firefighters and emergency medical technicians. Street said there is a nationwide trend use a "rescue task force" — including EMTs and firefighters along with police — in emergency situations to help those who are wounded immediately, rather than waiting to help until the threat is over.

"Maybe if they got care sooner they could make it, and we can mitigate the loss of life by bringing in fire personnel in that tactical scenario alongside the officers who are still trying to eliminate a threat and provide for security," Street said.

Sarah Reale, director of digital marketing at Salt Lake Community College, said this is the third exercise the school has hosted, and the first at its South City campus. She said the exercise helps school officials make sure they have emergency systems in place and are able to coordinate with law enforcement.

"We think that when our students are safe they learn better, especially when they feel safe," Reale said.

She said the students are on spring break, so the campus is available to host law enforcement agencies. Reale the college has learned about the safety of its own campuses through hosting the training, including possible entrances and exits and best practices for emergency alerts.

"Every single time we do practices like this we’re getting closer to being as safe as possible," Reale said.

Adriana Moreno, a student working on getting her certification to be an EMT and who hopes to eventually become a nurse, thought participating in the drill would be a good experience.

"It was scary, especially in the beginning. We were just looking for a place to hide … where you think you might be able to survive something like this," Moreno said.

Her group found a computer room and barricaded the door with a rolling white board and then a copy machine. She said someone tried the door four times while they were hiding and thought it was locked. Eventually they moved the barricade slightly so they could be found by police.

Moreno said the experience was positive and helped her learn what to do to protect herself, as well as how to react to the police and follow their instructions.

"It makes me so grateful for all these guys that are out there risking their lives to save others," Moreno said.

Salt Lake Police Sgt. Brandon Shearer discussed the importance of training civilians how to react in an emergency. He said Salt Lake police have switched from teaching the "run, hide, fight" method to "avoid, deny, defend," or ADD.

He said the words are similar, but semantics are important. Civilians who don't want to fight are more likely to be willing to defend themselves. He also said the word "deny" is more active and encourages blocking doors.

Shearer said training with multiple agencies also helps them to work on communicating. The various agencies practiced patching channels together so officers already engaged in the situation didn't need to worry about switching to communicate.

Street added that the training helps officers realize what should be said on the channel in active shooter situations. He said getting all the agencies together for training helps to create a unified response among all the agencies.

"Having more officers trained and more of them (who have) at least worked through it in a training environment … they will be that much better mentally prepared to work through it if it ever occurs," Street said.

He said officers are not able to get the same training from slide presentations and lectures as they do through the hands-on training like Tuesday's event.