Brandeis will conduct an active shooter drill on Wednesday, March 21, according to a Feb. 5 email announcement from Public Safety Director Ed Callahan. The drill will simulate an active shooter situation in the library—including realistic gunshot sounds—and both Brandeis and Waltham law enforcement and emergency services will respond in real time.
The library is the only location that will be closed during the drill, according to the university. All other classes and events will continue as planned.
The goal of the drill is to test Brandeis’ emergency and communication protocols and allow campus leaders and members of law enforcement to train and practice for these situations. “You walk through the drill to understand how these things play out in real time, to understand the importance of coordinating with the different law enforcement and emergency operations,” said Jim Gray, Vice President for Campus Operations, in a joint interview with The Brandeis Hoot and the Justice.
The drill will employ “interactive role-playing that, were it not for posted signs indicating police training is underway, would look and sound to a passerby as if a real crisis were unfolding,” said the email from Callahan.
The drill will take place at some point between 6 a.m. and noon on the 21st and last approximately three hours, said Gray. There will be emergency sirens and simulated gunshot sounds on campus. Participants in the drill include Brandeis police, senior administrators, the Brandeis Emergency Medical Crops (BEMCo), Waltham Police and Fire Departments and Cataldo ambulance services.
Staff and some students will play mock-victims as Brandeis and Waltham emergency services respond to the situation and attend to the “victim’s” injuries, according to Gray. Brandeis senior executives will meet to discuss the attack and consider the aftermath of the “mock-tragedy.” The university will send out emergency alerts via phone and email through the Brandeis Emergency Notification System (BENS).
BEMCo members receive training for mass casualty incidents (MCSIs) during the year “by undergoing classroom style and practical skills training,” according to an email from Allison Lewis, the BEMCo Operations Officer.
These drills are now common practice on college campus, said Gray, and serve to familizare campus communities with events that have occurred throughout the country. It is not in response to any particular event or because Brandeis is somehow more susceptible to this kind of attack, he said. The drill will likely present officials with scenarios they had not considered, allowing them to react on the spot and be more prepared to confront an actual incident, Gray explained.
Gray emphasized “The word ‘drill’ will be everywhere,” on the 21st and in the weeks preceding it. During the event, there will be large signs at the entrance to campus and the library indicating that an emergency procedure is in progress. Long before then, staff will place signs in the library and on the doors to every campus building with details about the drill. The Office of Communications is also developing a plan to release information online, via email and on social media in the weeks leading up to the 21st.
“We don’t want anyone hearing the mock gunshots and thinking that there’s a shooter,” said Gray. “We’re very concerned that someone might, nonetheless, fall through the cracks [so] we’re trying to take every precaution to be sure we overcommuniate and carefully communicate to the right audience.”
Administrators are encouraging everyone to watch a video on active shooter protocols it released last semester. According to Gray, around 25 percent of the Brandeis community (students, faculty and staff) watched the video via the campus-wide emails, though this may underestimate its total reach because it is available elsewhere online and was shown at Orientation events. Officials also remind students to ensure they are signed up for BENS notifications.
Various campus departments are making preparations for the drill. Since the library will be closed, staff will communicate alternative study locations “well in advance of March 21,” said Callahan’s email. The Brandeis Counseling Center will be on alert during the drill, for students who may need to speak with someone about the experience, said Gray.
Senior Brandeis administrators are meeting weekly to discuss logistics of the drill, and administrators will have a debrief after the 21st to study how it went and what they can learn from the experience. University officials have also begun communicating with Waltham political and neighborhood leaders and, moving forward, intend to communicate directly with nearby residents.
The full Brandeis police force is participating in the drill, but the switchboard will be manned throughout, and Gray confirmed they will pull officers should they be needed elsewhere. If an actual emergency occurs on the 21st, Brandeis will issue a BENS alert stating, “This is not a test,” and will initiate their “actual emergency preparedness protocols and communications procedures,” according to Callahan.
This is the first, but likely not the last, active shooter drill for Brandeis, though Gray said there are no scheduled plans for a second drill at this time.