Laguna College of Art and Design on Wednesday turned into a mock crime scene as police officers and firefighters from multiple agencies practiced responding to an active shooter on the campus at 2222 Laguna Canyon Road.
Laguna Beach police and LCAD officials spent more than a year developing training exercises for public safety personnel throughout the region, including Costa Mesa and Newport Beach fire departments and UC Irvine police, and the college’s staff and students.
Groups of officers, with guns drawn, ran into one of the buildings as repetitive “popping” noises of mock gunfire rattled the air.
About a minute later volunteers who played injured people ran outside while screaming refrains such as, “he’s in there” and “someone is shooting.”
A group of firefighters, flanked by police officers, then went inside to move actors playing injured or dead persons out of the building. Wounded people wore white T-shirts with red splotches to emulate blood stains.
Sequences played out three times each during morning and afternoon sessions.
LCAD President Jonathan Burke played one of the people in harm’s way during the morning round.
Burke said he sat in the library dazed and deaf because he lost his hearing aids. Volunteers consisted of LCAD staff and community members, he said.
School was not in session Wednesday because the college is on winter break.
“We heard shots and the police came in,” Burke said. “We knew where the shooter was, but police [initially] had no idea. We were crying, asking for help and assistance.”
Another group of officers eventually corralled the shooter and firefighters entered to aid the wounded, Burke said about the exercise.
Even though the process was a drill, Burke said certain sounds, such as police car sirens and cries of people portraying victims, made it feel real.
“The whole exercise elicited strong emotions out of all of us," Burke said. “Someone was hurt and we needed to do something.
“You respond to this as a person.”
Burke said volunteers arrived at 7 a.m. Wednesday, well ahead of the 9 a.m. start time, to learn their roles and the proper things to say and do.
Laguna Officer Brandon Drake, like Burke, participated in the morning round of exercises.
In one exercise, he was part of the second group of responders.
“The scene had been contained so we were looking for people who were crying out for help,” Drake said. “You have to neutralize the threat and prevent any further loss of life.”
Drake said the main takeaway from the exercise was situational awareness.
“This job is all about being uncomfortable,” Drake said. “You have to be prepared for anything.”
Preparations for the drills began more than a year ago, Jordan Villwock, Laguna’s emergency operations coordinator, wrote in an email earlier this week.
LCAD had sufficient facilities to pull off the exercise, Villwock said. The college embraced the chance to participate with law enforcement on the drill.
“The more preparedness the college can have, the better,” LCAD public information officer Mike Stice said. “The reality is that these [types of incidents] are becoming more common.”
Laguna police will evaluate the drill and assess whether they want to repeat or adjust it, Sgt. Jim Cota said, adding that this was the first time in his 23 years with the department that it has partnered with a school or college on responding to a shooter.
“This is one of the most challenging calls for a supervisor,” Cota said. “You ask yourself how much personnel do you have, how many people are hit and how many victims. There are a lot of variables.”
Cota gave credit to Villwock and Laguna Sgt. Eric Lee for preparing the drill.