Terrorism Alert: Cal State San Marcos held ‘active shooter drills’ Wednesday (Updated)

Scene from the last active shooter drill, June 2014 at San Marcos High School.

Don’t look now, but Cal State University San Marcos (CSUSM) was the scene of a terrorist attack on Wednesday. Good thing school doesn’t resume sessions until Jan. 25, so campus was fairly devoid of students.

With terrorism and school shooting scenarios in mind, CSUSM staged an active shooter drill where fake became real for training purposes. About 100 North County police, fire and hospital personnel participated.

The carefully staged active shooting training exercise took place from 9 a.m. to noon, broke for lunch, and resumed from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Drills were closed to the general public and media was offered only very limited access.

Drills simulated an active shooter attack in the University Student Union,” Margaret Chantung, CSUSM director of communications said. “Nearly every North County law enforcement agency in North County participated, including hospitals and colleges. Conducting and planning for this exercise allows us to assess our emergency response, interagency coordination and recovery efforts.

Chanting added: “Unfortunately active shooter events are becoming all too common. It’s important that our first responders train and prepare for such a contingency.”

CSUSM Student Union will be Ground Zero for active shooter drill.

CSUSM Student Union will be Ground Zero for active shooter drill.

CSUSM drills took place in and around the four-story University Student Union, 333 Twin Oaks Valley Road. Residents and motorists may have noticed emergency vehicles, including medical helicopters, ambulances, fire trucks and patrol cars on campus and in the surrounding community. Traffic control measures will be implemented throughout campus.

“One of the unique things about this drill is it’s not just police and our tactics, or fire and their tactics,” said Robert McManus, CSUSM Police Department chief. “This is really a regional test of the system.”

The 21-member CSUSM University Police Department along with the San Marcos Fire Department, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, city of Escondido Fire and Police Departments, Palomar Hospital, Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla and Rady Children’s Hospital were scheduled to participate.

Much of the activity was out of view of the media, according to reports, although an eerie recording of people screaming could be heard echoing across campus throughout the exercise. At one point, a man with a gun was seen darting across a footbridge outside the four-story Student Union building, firing two shots as he ran.

McManus said the drill provided officers with a more authentic experience than they could receive in any classroom and helped various agencies learn how to coordinate during an emergency. The need for such drills has become increasingly apparent.

“Due to the increase of active shootings and recent tragic events such as those in San Bernardino, California.; Paris, France; Roseburg, Oregon and Colorado Springs, Colorado, CSUSM has made it a priority to ensure the campus community is well prepared for an active shooter emergency,” Margaret Chantung, CSUSM communications director, said.

McManus added: “The safety and welfare of our campus community is our highest priority. Conducting and planning for this exercise will allow us to assess our emergency response, interagency coordination and recovery efforts after such an event.”

San Marcos Fire Chief Brett Van Wey said the campus hosted a similar event in 2010, when authorities responded to a mock terrorist attack involving guns and chemicals at a graduation. “We do patient care, and they do bad guys,” Van Wey said.“That’s how we have to fit, and that’s why these drills are extremely important.”

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