ST. GEORGE – Multiple parties participated in a simulated mass-shooting and bomb threat exercise held at Dixie State University’s Russell C. Taylor Health Science Building Friday. Officials said the purpose of the exercise was to help the many agencies and individuals potentially involved in a similar real-life scenario to be better prepared and know how to best respond.
The mock event involved three individuals with firearms entering the Taylor Building at 1526 Medical Center Drive. Role-players involved in the exercise were DSU students, faculty and staff, as well as Intermountain Healthcare employees, St. George Police Department officers, Gold Cross EMS personnel and public information officers from various agencies.
“(The exercise) was a joint idea created through Dixie State University, Dixie Regional Medical Center and the St. George Police Department,” said Steve Johnson, DSU public relations director.
Prior to the exercise, DSU and Intermountain Healthcare employees participated in a series of training programs called “Run, Hide and Fight.” These programs highlighted the three actions people involved in an active shooting situation may take depending on the circumstances.
“When you’re faced with (a mass-shooting)… And you haven’t had any training, it’s a very difficult situation and quite frankly you wouldn’t know what to do,” said Paul Morris, DSU vice president of administrative services.
The training was put to the test when gunshots – fired by role-players using blank ammunition – were reported in the Taylor Building around 1:35 p.m. The mock mass-shooting exercise had begun.
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Videocast by Chris Caldwell, St. George News
The exercise begins
People ran out of the Taylor Building soon after the shots were fired. Rumors also began to circulate that Terri Kane, chief executive officer of DRMC and St. George City Councilman Jon Pike, were inside the building and had been shot.
Intermountain Healthcare employee Marie Wright played the part of one of the people who escaped the building after the shooting began. “When I heard the shots, it was really (disgusting,)” she said.
Wright said she applied the training she had received that morning and considered how to react. She looked for a place to hide, and when she didn’t find any, she ran for the nearest door along with others in the room.
Did she feel the training was beneficial? With mass-shootings like the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders of six months ago becoming more common across the nation, Wright said, “We always need to be ready.”
At this point, a joint information center was established in Jubilee Home II, across the street from the Taylor Building. The center, compromised of public information officers from multiple parties, came together to coordinate and disseminate information between the agencies involved, as well as news media.
Rev. Jimi Kestin, president of the St. George Interfaith Council, acted as the center’s media liaison and provided updates while also taking questions.
Between 1:35 and 2:35 p.m., at least two gunmen entered the Taylor Building and began firing at people inside. St. George Police confirmed two of the gunmen were dead, with a possible third gunman still at large and possibly carrying an explosive device. Multiple civilian casualties were also reported.
As events unfolded, reports confirmed the presence and eventual death of a third gunman with a device the bomb squad would investigate and dismantle. Between 25 and 30 were shot and sustained various degrees of injury – four were counted as critical by the end of the exercise.
The joint information center also confirmed Kane was in the building during the shooting, but her location and condition at the time could not be confirmed. It also remained unknown whether or not Pike was inside the building. However, photographs taken at the scene have since confirmed he was among those who escaped the building early on.
The building was pronounced clear by the police by 2:35 p.m. The only fatalities involved were the three gunmen.
“It was excellent,” St. George Police Sgt. Sam Despain said of the exercise. “We are very pleased with the results. It’s important everybody is ready for what could happen … It was a very successful training.”
While the St. George Police Department routinely trains on how to respond to a variety of situations, Despain said it isn’t often the department is able to participate in multi-agency exercises.
“Today’s drill we think went very well,” said Terri Draper, communications director for Intermountain Healthcare’s Southwest Region.
Draper said “perfect practice” can make for “perfect performance.” However, she said it’s hard to estimate a perfect performance, or even achieve it, given the magnitude of a mass-shooting event. Still, when life and death is in the balance, her people want to be as close to perfection in response as possible.
Though the mass-shooting itself was a mock incident, Morris said there was a strong sense of realism to it due to previous shootings covered in the news.
“When you start hearing and seeing blanks fired at you and near you and (wonder) in the situation of what to do next,” Morris said, “it brings a realism to what others have faced on college campuses, elementary schools, other places around the country – it makes it very real.”
At the conclusion of the exercise, Johnson expressed his thanks to all parties involved, from the students, staff and faculty of DSU to the St. George Police Department, bomb squad, DRMC and many others.
They have all been “great community partners in putting this exercise together,” he said. “And … I hope we never have to do this in real life.”
St. George News reporter Chris Caldwell contributed to this story.
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