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Emergency drill at Garrison Theater

Five bodies were strewn across the steps of Garrison Theater Wednesday morning as a siren boomed in the distance. Then a short silence followed by gunshots and screams. It was all part of the scene created by the county’s first responders as they conducted an active shooter training at the Scripps College Performing Arts Center. 

The tragic reality of school shootings has been forced to the forefront of most Americans’ minds in recent months as the country continues to mourn the devastation caused by shootings in Sandy Hook, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. and others. The Los Angeles County Fire Department hosted the 3-day training session along with the Claremont Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and SWAT, preparing local agencies in the event a shooting take place here. 

“It’s our responsibility as public safety to provide the best care we can should a situation like this arrive. This is helping us stay as prepared as possible,” said Brian Riley of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “We can’t ignore that it happens.”

Three months of rigorous planning culminated with a 60-minute simulation equipped with hundreds of responders, 3 helicopters and 2 volunteers posing as gunmen firing real guns filled with blanks as they rushed into the theater. Ambulances, fire trucks and armored van were also on hand. 

“We try to make the drill as real as possible,” said Nicole Nishida, public information officer for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. “We are using different tactics to best utilize our resources.”

Sirens blared as a helicopter swooped near ground level outside Honnold Library as SWAT officers repelled down onto the lawn below. It was a scene unlike any that has ever taken place on the small, liberal-arts school campus, though Ms. Nishida said the sheriff’s department frequently holds such drills at college campuses throughout the county. 

“This is our first time here,” Ms. Nishida said of the drill at Scripps. 

Scripps was selected for the drill by the fire department, searching for a school with an ample theater to conduct the training. 

Scripps junior Anna Walton got a first row ticket to the event, selected as one of 30 volunteers participating in the simulation. Ms. Walton was sitting in the theater, where the simulated shooting took place, along with more than a dozen others. Ms. Walton, a music major, is used to spending most of her time in Garrison Theater. However, Wednesday’s visit was altogether unique. 

“It was very strange,” Ms. Walton said of the experience. “Everything happened so fast.” 

Ms. Walton said she wasn’t as prepared for the experience as she had originally thought.

“The gunshots made me jolt, they were pretty loud,” she said. 

Caught up in the experience, Ms. Walton said she nearly forgot about the volunteers sprawled on the floor outside in her haste to get out with the other evacuees.

“It felt so real,” she said. 

Claremont Police officers evacuated Ms. Walton and several others out of the performing arts center, but fellow volunteer Joshua Bermal, an accounting clerk at the Claremont University Consortium, was not as lucky. With a fake gunshot to the chest, Mr. Bernal had to be carried out of the theater. 

“It was surreal hearing the gunshots but not seeing where the shooter was,” Mr. Bernal reflected. 

Though Ms. Walton found the drill to be much more hectic than expected, Mr. Bernal felt the opposite to be true. 

“It was just a strange experience,” he said. 

Participants will now return to their respective stations to share the safety plans with other emergency responders

“We hope that a situation like this doesn’t happen, but in the unfortunate event that it does, we will be prepared,” Ms. Nishida said. 

Drills will continue at Garrison Theater, located at Tenth Street and Dartmouth, and surrounding streets on Thursday and Friday from 7 to 11 a.m. 

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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