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Iowa City law enforcement, EMS practice active shooter response at University of Iowa campus

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) — It’s all about being prepared for a worst-case scenario and that’s exactly why more than 100 law enforcement and first responders descended on the University of Iowa’s campus today.

At least 6 agencies, including Johnson County Emergency Mangement, JOCO Sheriff’s Department, Iowa City Police, and Fire were apart of an active shooter training exercise at the UI’s Recreation and Wellness Center.

It all started around 8 a.m. shutting down S. Madison Street in Iowa City until 2 p.m.

Volunteers from area nursing programs and hospitals played the role of victims, creating a very realistic scene.

Today was the first full-scale drill that all local agencies have done altogether. While the drill had been in the works for almost 2-years the announcement came just days after the Texas and Ohio shootings.

A reminder, this scenario can happen anywhere.

The call rings out, active shooter. Today’s drill is supposed to feel real. Police run into the building with weapons drawn.

The focus of the exercise is to clear the building, neutralize the suspect and save victims. Johnson County Emergency Management Director, Dave Wilson said they’re also working on getting EMS inside as quick as possible.

“We’ve moved more toward getting fire, getting EMS in earlier to provide immediate life-saving treatment at the scene, triage them as quickly as possible and transport them off sight,” said Wilson.

It’s a tactic learned since Columbine 20-years-ago. In this case, it means getting paramedics into a warm zone, a room cleared by police to begin treating the victims right away.

“We can deploy emergency medical resources, rescue resources under the protection of law enforcement. This is happening possibly while the threat is still being pursued,” said Iowa City Deputy Fire Chief, Eric Nurnberg.

The training is equally as real for the volunteers involved. Most of them have medical backgrounds, like Kathy Hotch. She works at the Washington County Hospital and Clinics and thought participating could be a benefit.

“I wanted to see this from the victim’s side to see the difference and see how they feel. You don’t know that part until you live it,” said Hotch.

The scene was chaotic. Volunteer victim’s Hotch and Bill Berger, a University of Iowa employee said seconds felt like minutes waiting for help to arrive.

“I put a turner kit on my arm. You know you’re just kind of trying to think of what to do in that kind of situation, either help yourself or try to help other people,” said Berger.

The drill gave every department valuable insight on how to react should the worst happen.

“If it happened in Ohio and Texas within a period of 36 hours there’s nothing that makes Iowa City immune,” said Wilson.

Tomorrow the agencies will hold another after-action review to talk about what went well and areas in need of improvement.

“We fully expect to find areas to improve. We just want to match this up against our plan and see what parts are strong and what part need,” said Wilson.

If you’d like to learn how to react in an active shooter situation the Cedar Rapids Police Department is holding an active threat awareness program tomorrow. More details here.

Ashley Neighbor

Reporter, Cedar Rapids

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