NOVA Police participated in all-hands-on-deck active shooter training at the Woodbridge Campus on Sunday, April 10 and 17, with half the department receiving training the first Sunday and the other half the next. In order for officers to keep their skills sharp and to learn new techniques, they must participate in regular training. Required full-scale active-shooter training is held for NOVA officers twice each year. Additionally, officers participate in live-fire training at the firearms range.
During the Sunday training, the Seefeldt Building was completely cordoned off to ensure no students or faculty misunderstood that this was just an exercise. Participants received a brief lecture and introduction to the exercise from NOVA Police Lieutenant John Weinstein and then Tom Mayhew of NOVA’s Office of Emergency Management gave officers a run for their money. Playing the part of the fictional shooter, Mayhew ran up and down corridors and stairwells creating loud popping sounds with officers in hot pursuit. Young people lay strewn in hallways while others were evacuated, begging officers for help. Red faced and sweating, Mayhew and the police returned to the first floor cafeteria to debrief after each exercise and their trainers would review areas where they succeeded and where improvement was needed.
“You can see how chaotic things can become when there is a gunman and lives are in danger,” said Lieutenant John Degurse. “People are screaming and crying. The gunman’s actions are unpredictable. Your adrenaline is pumping, and it is critical that you have drilled and drilled so your actions become second nature.”
Across the street in the HVAC Building, there was a simulated hostage situation playing out. Sixteen students from a local Police Explorer unit played the roles of hostages, intrusive press and frantic parents. NOVA Police responded, securing the area, negotiating with hostage takers, and caring for the wounded. Another debrief provided useful information for the future.
“I can ask an officer, ‘What are you going to do if media show up and want to come into a volatile scene?’ and they say, ‘Well, I’m not going to let them. I’m going to tell them where press are to go,’” Weinstein said. “The officers know the answers, but knowing the answers and knowing how to implement them when you’re under extreme pressure, that’s really the key.”
Weinstein told the role players they are the people who allow him to make the active shooter and hostage exercises really realistic for the officers.
“Intellectually, I didn’t tell them anything in my briefing they didn’t already know. But there’s a big difference between knowing it and being able to execute it when you’re in a stressful situation,” he said.
Weinstein will compile a report of notes from the trainers’ observations as well as Prince William County Police and Explorers and Haymarket Police who observed the training. He will submit a final report to NOVA Police Chief Daniel Dusseau, and the NOVA community will be better and safer as a result.