Three men wearing green T-shirts and helmets that covered their faces sprinted into Gate C at Reser Stadium on Thursday morning. They were toting guns.
An Oregon State Police SWAT team quickly responded and engaged in gunfire with the men, who dropped to the ground.
The men in green were law enforcement officers acting as shooters during an emergency management training exercise at the football stadium at Oregon State University. The SWAT team members fired simulated ammunition in the form of liquid soap pellets. Afterward, the actors discussed with the SWAT team what they had done well and what they could have done better.
The training exercise, which was directed by OSU Emergency Manager Mike Bamberger, included multiple scenarios involving about 100 first responders from agencies including the 102 Civil Support Team (an Army National Guard unit based in Salem that provides support during natural and manmade disasters), the Albany Fire Department, Corvallis Fire Department, Oregon State Police, OSU Department of Public Safety, Whelan Security (a private company that provides unarmed security at the games) and more.
“Each of the scenarios has been built to test the integration of community partners and responders, which gives everyone a chance to practice their specialty,” Bamberger said.
First responders participate in these large scale emergency practices every few years, Bamberger said. In 2016, first responders practiced working a mass medical emergency at Reser that involved more than 100 people being injured in a simulated explosion.
Bamberger, working with representatives from each agency, designed Thursday’s scenarios based on real events that have happened elsewhere. First responders participating in the simulations did not know what the scenarios included ahead of time.
“We try to make this as realistic as possible,” Bamberger said. “Just like they would for real, they’re going into an unknown situation with minimum information.”
During the active shooter situation, a dummy on the ground represented a state trooper who had been killed by one of the shooters, providing more impetus and realism to the situation, he said.
Officials in a command post, including Bamberger, Oregon State Police captains and OSU athletics staff, watched the active shooter scenario play out on a screen and discussed how the response went.
Another scenario had law enforcement conducting a normal pregame sweep of the stadium when they came across a source of radiation. The officers backed away from the source, established a perimeter and called in a hazmat team. Bamberger said the radioactive source used in the exercise was real, and safeguards were used.
The team continued their sweep of the stadium and a bomb dog detected an explosive package. Bamberger said the state’s Explosive-Ordnance-Disposal team X-rayed the real explosive, assessed it and used a controlled explosion to destroy the package. (A very small amount of the explosive was used in the exercise.)
The third scenario had two Benton County Community Emergency Response Team members acting as victims of an attack involving a drone and a white powder. In the simulation, the two men had been struck by the drone, causing lacerations to their faces and arms (the men had fake blood applied to their skin). The drone looked as if it had crashed to the ground, spraying white powder (Gold Bond) onto the men.
A hazmat team responded to remove the two men from the scene and place them into a decontamination shower, which had been set up outside the stadium.
Bamberger said it’s important to practice these emergency responses at Reser because the United States is seeing an increase in attacks against large gatherings, which could include a football game. Bamberger chose terrorism-type events, including chemical, biological, radiological/nuclear and explosive incidents, because first responders don’t get to practice responding to those events very often.
“If we can train to those, then we can definitely respond to the lesser-type events like a small fire or a chemical spill in a closet,” Bamberger said.
He wanted to mentally induce stress for the first responders as they would experience in a real event so that it becomes routine for them. By familiarizing the first responders with the mental preparation required for these incidents, they’re less likely to make mistakes when something real happens, Bamberger said.
He said members of each agency observed and evaluated their peers and provided them with feedback. Members of the Corvallis School District were also invited to observe and learn from the emergency responses. Bamberger said he will create a report containing information on what responders did well and what they could improve.
“OSU and our first responders in the community, we train together often,” he said. “Not because we have a lot of incidents, but because we have a lot of people who come to our campus. It’s people safety first. We’re increasing our safety all the time.”