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Active Drill at NOVA Simulates Real-Life Campus Shooting

Wednesday's exercise included gunfire and a car on fire as part of a training drill for local and campus personnel.

 (NOVA) held an active shooter exercise at the Annandale campus on Wednesday, Dec. 28 that included simulated gunfire and responses from local agencies mirroring a real-life campus shooting.

The exercise was the first joint collaborative task effort for personnel from the NOVA Police Department, NOVA Office of Emergency Management and Planning, Fairfax County Police Department, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, Fairfax County Emergency Management, and the Virginia State Police Department.

“It’s to test our inter-operability and how well we communicate with each other,” said Lieutenant Cheryl Creed with the NOVA police department.

Although it was just a drill, the scenario served as a training exercise for all first responders and local agencies in case of a real shooting. One key difference in Wednesday’s exercise was the absence of students and faculty due to the holiday break.

“[The purpose of the exercise is] to identify gaps in our training and determine what we need when events like this occur. Communication is also a big part of it so we want to make sure our communication system is up and running. We want to make sure our tasks and training work for us and if it doesn’t, we need to fix it now before an incident occurs,” said Captain Joe Hill, commander of the .

The response protocol used in Wednesday's exercise will be implemented across all NOVA campuses.

Hill said the drill isn’t a direct response to the , but he emphasized the need for college campuses to be prepared in case a shooting happens.

“This is something we’ve done off and on for the last few years. Unfortunately, these incidents continue to occur, so we need to make sure we are on our game at all times,” said Hill.

The exercise took six months to coordinate. There were a total of three shooters in Wednesday’s scenario. Simulated gunfire came from various buildings on campus and there was a quick and heavy response from the police, fire, and rescue personnel.

There was one police officer fatality and one shooter was “killed” about halfway through the exercise. A smoke machine was also used to simulate a car set on fire in the parking garage.

Outside of the local officers, students from the NOVA drama department played the role of shooting victims, fled campus buildings and were treated for injuries by rescue and medical personnel.

Hill said residents who live near the campus were notified two weeks ago about Wednesday’s drill. There were also signboards posted on Little River Turnpike and Wakefield Chapel Road during the day warning motorists of a police training drill. Creed said there was no danger to the community or roleplayers during the exercise. Barricades were set up to prevent cars and pedestrians from walking into the secured perimeter and the ammunition used were blanks. Officers used blue riles, similar to the guns they would use in a real shooting.

William Flagler, director of the Emergency Management and Planning Office, said residents could see similar exercises at NOVA campuses in the future.

“We’re under an all-hazards approach. Today’s response situation is a fire and a shooter, but next year, we might have a weather response exercise. It’s just important for us to know how to handle all situations,” said Flager.

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