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Staged Mass Shooting at Valencia East Campus

Ashley Tynes Garcia and Lawrence Perry

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On the morning of Friday, August 4, Valencia College East Campus is quiet. Then all of sudden at 10:04…Boom! A loud explosion is heard and smoke rises from smoke bombs thrown in the campus mall area. Operation VIPER 2.0 commences as alarms go off to signal the start of the drill.

Operation VIPER simulates a crisis happening on campus where two active shooters are role-played and Orange County police officers, firefighters, and SWAT teams are to simulate what they would do to take action in this type of situation.

The day begins with all students and faculty participants at the simulation meeting in the cafeteria. The operation begins at 10:05 a.m. After the explosion, smoke bombs and alarms on campus go off. Campus security officers run on campus to where role-playing injured students are playing dead. They stay with unconscious bodies they find in the mall area.

Two groups of police officers then arrive on the scene with their weapons drawn at the ready. The guns are unloaded but are considered ready to fire at the moment. They check to see if there are any survivors in the mall area as they move along the campus. Emergency alarms start sounding off at 10:09 a.m.

Screaming can be heard from building 4 as six faculty role players run out of the doors to the mall area. They keep running until they reach a safe distance.

Security cars speed on campus towards building 8 where the role-playing gunman had been spotted at 10:15 a.m. The police officers move to contact. At 10:17 the shooter then takes a hostage and a deputy is down with an injury in the scenario.

The pretend suspect is finally isolated and contained in the east campus parking garage by building 8 at approximately 10:22 a.m. A whole squad of police cars race on campus to the location where they close in on the suspect by 10:23 a.m.

Gunshots are simulated by a soundtrack at 10:26 to alert the officers of another gunman. After shots are fired, the secondary sweep of the area happens at 10:28 a.m. On campus, there was a total of three contact teams making sure no more gunmen are around.

The students laying in the mall area are assisted at 10:57 a.m. by emergency medical technicians. The EMTs take the students acting injured and unconscious on stretchers where they drag them to safety. Four victims’ bodies are dragged from building 4 and two more bodies are taken from the mall area.

The exercise ends for the people playing victims and they head back to the cafeteria safe point.

Meanwhile, the last role-playing shooter is in the woods where the SWAT team eventually catches and neutralizes him.

Rob Pigman coordinator of the operation said the operation went extremely smoothly. He believes this exercise was a great learning experience and helped everyone become more prepared if a situation like this would arise. He states there was about 200 first responders, mainly Orange County sheriff’s office which consists of patrol, SWAT team, crisis and negotiation team and emergency response team. This includes Orange County Fire and Rescue as well.

“We had approximately 65 to 70 role playing students and faculty. We used special effects make up to simulate gunshot wounds, lacerations, and burns and so forth,” says Pigman, Assistant Director of Security on Valencia East, School of Public Safety and the Winter Park Campus. “This gives the first responders the opportunity to treat and look the victims over to see what kind of care they might need.”

The student participants, who played unconscious victims, were excited by the operation. Some of them even helped with fake injuries looking more realistic. This was part of Charlotte Martinez’s makeup artist work.

“I feel like I’m having an adrenaline rush. It was very hard for me to stay in character while hearing people panic and running out while keeping my eyes closed. I didn’t really know what was really happening. All I had was my ears to listen to what was going on,” explains Martinez, 19, a theater major on East Campus. “I also helped with the stage makeup for this training. It was really fun with the help of Professor Sonia Pasqual’s theater makeup class. She taught me everything I know, so I had the chance to bring these injuries to life.”

Alyssa Dowling, a student from the theater department, also came out to participant and she leaves with a new outlook on situations like these.

“It was really exciting. I played a deceased student so I was one of the first people the security had to respond to. It was really weird because I had to stay very still. So I wasn’t able to see what was going on, but I heard everything,” says Dowling, 20, a sophomore on campus, “It made you think this is what happens in this situation because you never get to experience that unless you were in it. It brought me to think about the Pulse tragedy and movie shootings, and put all of that into perspective.”

The day was eventful on campus. This was truly a learning experience for faculty and students alike, but hopefully, the operation has now made everyone more aware of the crisis that can occur on campus.

This operation has better prepared our campus security, police officers, firefighters and EMTs if something like this were to happen for real.

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Staged Mass Shooting at Valencia East Campus