Mock gunman drill tests MU security

Wednesday, April 18, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:56 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

One day after a student killed 32 people in a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University, the MU Police Department, along with the city of Columbia and MU officials, tested the university’s Emergency Operation Plan on campus early Tuesday morning.

The date of the drill, which took four hours, was determined in late January and was not a reaction to Monday’s shootings in Blacksburg, Va., said Peter Ashbrook, director of MU’s department of environmental health and safety. Since Sept. 11, 2001, MU police and university officials have conducted a simulation each year to test and improve the campus’ response to emergency situations.

“It was a horrible thing that happened, and it’s a coincidence that we had a scheduled drill for a similar incident,” Ashbrook said. “We put ourselves in that position to find out what we’d do, and people were more engaged than usual because of the tragedy.”

Though the scenario of the simulated emergency had been selected weeks ago, officials were not informed of it until this morning. Tuesday’s drill involved a gunman who shot several people on Lowry Mall, then fled into Ellis Library, MU police Capt. Brian Weimer said. Participants in the simulation were later notified that the shooter had moved to the roof of Ellis Library, and they responded accordingly, Weimer said.

“This was an excellent tabletop exercise,” Weimer said. “Participants started by receiving information and discussed possible responses. The discussion then evolved into a singular motion, and all involved were able to respond and adjust to that.”

Weimer said events like the Virginia Tech shootings can influence how local emergency procedures are developed.

“We always take these simulations extremely seriously,” he said. “Examples like the shootings and other incidents we hear about from the media can influence how we respond to situations today. Anytime a major incident occurs, we take all new findings into consideration for re-evaluation.”

MU police also responded to a potential security threat at Lafferre Hall unrelated to the drill. In an e-mail sent to engineering students and faculty on Tuesday morning, Marty Walker, director of administrative services for the College of Engineering, said graffiti written in a bathroom could have been interpreted as a potential threat.

The building coordinators of Lafferre Hall called in the campus police’s canine patrol as a precautionary measure. No dangerous materials were located, Walker said.

“We decided there was only a very, very remote possibility of anything serious going on here,” Walker said. “But we wanted to show people that the campus reacted in a positive manner.”

Walker said responders were on site within five minutes of being dispatched and that the entire situation was handled “with vigor and professionalism.”

Weimer said the call, like all other calls the MU police receive, was taken very seriously.

“No matter who calls us with an emergency, we do our best to respond as quickly as possible,” Weimer said. “Situations and circumstances may change, but our effort does not.”

— Missourian reporter Shannon Jones contributed to this report.

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