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OREM — An "active shooter" was on the Utah Valley University campus Tuesday as part of a simulation to prepare for the possibility of a real-life shooting.
Under the UVU president's directive, UVU Emergency Management and other campus departments for months have been planning an active-shooter exercise, which took place in the Browning Administration Building around 3 p.m.
The university’s main entrance and business offices in the administration building were closed during the exercise which only lasted about 15 minutes.
“We want to be as prepared as possible and coordinate with our community partners so we can continue to provide a safe, secure environment for our students, faculty and staff,” Robin Ebmeyer, director of emergency risk management at UVU, said in a prepared statement.
A notice was posted on the school bulletin and signs were placed on the building, but some students didn't know about the shooting drill until a campus-wide email was sent around 3 p.m. Monday.
You will hear it, you will smell it, you will see it, and you’ll need to react, and it’ll be interesting to see what they do.
Students Dallin Wilkes, a junior, and Erik Price, a sophomore, both hadn’t heard about the simulation until they were asked about it earlier Monday.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea because nobody knows about it,” Wilkes said. “If I thought somebody was shooting, I would be concerned. … I think they should have let the students know.”
However, Ebmeyer clarified in an interview that participants will be involved voluntarily. During the shooting simulation, UVU police kept students and employees from inadvertently entering the building.
Ebmeyer said about 100 employees and 50 to 60 volunteer students were involved in the drill, as well as the university's president.
"We’ve taken a lot of precautions to keep the participants safe and to keep people who may not know about it out," Ebmeyer said.
The building was shut down at 3 p.m., and security sweeps of the building and its inhabitants were performed prior to a briefing. Then a "gunman" entered the building and shot blanks to create a real-life situation.
"You will hear it, you will smell it, you will see it, and you’ll need to react, and it’ll be interesting to see what they do," Ebmeyer said. "It'll be a little bit of an unsettling experience for people but in a very controlled environment."
Concerns over psychological effects
Some university community members have expressed worries about the drill — its psychological effects and its timing. Ebmeyer said she’s heard about a petition against it and concerns about the fact that it’s occurring during finals week.
She said the main concern has been that someone ignorant of the situation could wander into the building, especially if the person has a concealed weapon. However, she said, that is extremely unlikely.
While the exercise is meant to be as real as possible, some campus mental health professionals will be on hand to meet with anyone involved who experiences psychological distress.
Administration staff were notified in advance of the drill and allowed to opt out, according to Jack Jensen, a psychologist and the director of psychological services at UVU.
He said he's concerned the drill is happening during final exams, but he said the “vast majority” of people involved won’t be traumatized. Those who have experienced previous trauma dealing with guns are more likely to be distressed.
“We’ve been asked as a therapy group to have counselors on site, so we’re going to provide counselors over there … to meet with whoever needs to be met with,” he said.
Because of the location, Jensen said, the drill was mostly isolated from the students, and most students probably won’t know it’s happening.
“I think just because of circumstance and the situation, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Jensen said. “We can rely on our preparation and it’s much easier to deal with than if we go into it blindly and naively. Of course, we pray and hope that his will never happen, but you never know.”