N.C. Central University will conduct an emergency training exercise this week that will simulate a terror attack on the campus in Durham.
On Thursday, some 20 agencies will participate in “Operation Eagle Swoop,” as the event has been dubbed. The drill will include actors portraying gunmen, hostage takers and victims. Law enforcement, medics and emergency officials from around the state will take part in the exercise.
All told, the event will include some 220 participants, making it the largest full-scale drill staged on a University of North Carolina system campus, said Sgt. Robert McLaughlin, emergency management coordinator at NCCU.
University campuses across the United States have conducted mass casualty exercises since the massacre at Virginia Tech that left 32 victims dead in 2007. Drills that simulate response to a single crazed gunman have become annual events for many agencies and college campuses. Some are simply paper scenarios analyzed in so-called tabletop exercises; others are more elaborate, involving officers with weapons, actors and buildings being locked down.
McLaughlin said he chose a terror exercise because it would grab the attention of participants. He pointed out that terror attacks have happened in unexpected places such as a school in Beslan, Russia, in 2004 and at hotels in Mumbai in 2008.
“Lots of times we think we’re isolated from it,” McLaughlin said.
But, he added, “The potential is there. It could happen.”
McLaughlin wouldn’t give away too much about the exercise because the event has to be a surprise to the participants. But he said it would take place primarily in residence halls and would involve hostages. It is likely to last five hours or more and will include actors, as victims, being transported to Duke Hospital.
The drill will test not only first responders but also communications systems, surveillance cameras, the campus siren system and decision-making by the university’s administrative team.
The exercise is purposely being held during winter break, when some employees will be working, but students won’t be around. Officers will use guns that have been converted to shoot soap bullets, but blanks will also be fired to simulate the sound of real gunfire.
Neighbors around NCCU have been told about the event and asked to stay away from campus, McLaughlin said.
After the simulation, the participants will hold a quick debriefing with a more detailed after-action report to follow later this month.
The NCCU campus has held active-shooter exercises before but has never staged a terrorism scenario.
“We need to be aware that something really bad can happen,” McLaughlin said, “and we need to be ready. I can’t stand lackadaisical. That’s what we’re trying to keep out of our mindset.”