UTRGV assesses tactics with active shooter exercise

Law enforcement and first responders participate in a live active shooter exercise held on campus of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley at the University Recreation Center building on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — An active shooter drill may be too real for some volunteers to stomach, as was discovered Wednesday when the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley conducted an exercise as part of ongoing preparation between university and city responders.

“One of the student actors actually said it was too intense,” said UTRGV Police Chief Raul Munguia. “But that is what we need… within our policy we are actually required to do that every so often, with UT System.”

The university’s police department and Office of Emergency Preparedness organized the full-scale active shooter exercise after several meetings and table-top exercising with city and county partners.

In this case, those involved were most likely to respond to an attack of this nature, such as the Edinburg police and fire departments, emergency medical technicians, ambulance providers and Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.

The University Recreation Center was the site of the mock shooting where volunteer students, staff and even police officers and emergency responders where surprised by a scenario developed by an assigned committee.

The goal, Munguia said, was to have the committee keep the details of the scenario from the entire team in order to make it as realistic as possible.

“We wanted there to be that element of the unknown,” Munguia said. “I didn’t even know what it was… At eight o’clock we did our briefings and at about 9:15 the first shot went off in the building, and we had our response protocol and the mixing of the different agencies that were coming in.”

The entire scenario worked quite well, he said, as all responders had already discussed their specific role in this scenario.

Such cases might be over in a matter of minutes, and there is not much time to waste, he explained, so the role of responders has evolved over the years to act quickly and be ready with weapons and protective gear, rather than wait for a team to do that.

Even when armed, officers don’t go into the scenario hoping to shoot and kill the suspect unless absolutely necessary, he said. The idea is for them to be completely ready for immediate response.

“There are two reasons; one is protection of the officer and that he remains active in an active shooting event,” he said. “If (the officers) survive it, that shooter will turn his attention away from the victims… and in the end our goal is not to kill him, our goal is to stop the killing.”

During the exercise, the teams got to the mock shooter and arrested him without incident and the teams moved on from preventing killings to assessing and helping victims.

“We were also exercising the rescue portion,” he said. “It doesn’t stop with neutralizing or eliminating the shooter… then you turn and start helping the victims. Most of the victims in active shooter events die from loss of blood so our primary purpose there is with tourniquets to stop the bleeding. If you stop the bleeding you stop the dying.”

Law enforcement and first responders participate in a live active shooter exercise held on campus of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley at the University Recreation Center building on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Many of the specifics as far as tactics and number of responders are better kept under wraps as to not divulge the entire operation. But the university will now develop a report based on this first mock shooting’s overall findings that will be made available to the public.

The UT System requires every campus to conduct such events, but in the case of UTRGV, Munguia said he will aim to conduct one at each campus considering they are so different and far away.

Even though the hope is to be ready to quickly respond, he said the overall message to the students and UTRGV community is that the department would rather prevent than react.

“The only way that we are going to be able to prevent is for everybody to be engaged, and if you hear something or see something, call your local police department, call us, we take these very seriously,” Munguia said. “Nine times out of 10 it will be nothing, but we don’t want to miss that one that turns into one of these events. For us, we rather chase something down and find out that it’s nothing.”