Active shooter drill at UNCG provides rare learning opportunity for first responders

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- A car hits a dozen people on the University of North Carolina Greensboro’s campus. The driver gets out and fires shots in the air before running to take cover. Not too far away, at the University’s Emergency Response Center, a 911 operator gets a calm message.

"I think I need to report a shooting,” the caller says.

His voice is calm, because he knows this isn’t real. The blood on the victims, the guns, the crash, all of it for the sake of preparation.

Victims with made-up bloody gashes on their faces roll around on the ground chatting as they wait for first responders. The scenario may be fake, but the subject matter couldn’t be more serious.

"We hope and pray that nothing like this ever happens on the UNCG campus or any campus in Greensboro, but we do want to be prepared in case that does happen,” Greensboro Assistant Fire Chief Dwayne Church said.

More than 350 people participated for the active shooter drill, blocking off a chunk of campus for hours Thursday morning until noon.

It’s a rare opportunity to see how federal, state and local agencies work together.

"Pull all our disciplines together,” UNCG Emergency Services Director Zach Smith said. "Practice our communication, our inner operability and our response procedures."

Inside the McIver building were three "gunmen." The media was not allowed inside for security reasons. The building, a perfect place for the drill because it’s empty and ready to be demolished.

First responders didn’t know every detail about the planned drill to create a more organic response. Inside the gunman and police exchanged fake gunfire, dodged explosives and police tried to help the wounded.

"It's cool to see all the resources they have around here, like our city,” said UNCG junior Mohammed Hashin, who caught a glimpse of the action on his way to class. "They know what to do if something were to happen."

Several agencies participated, including the FBI, Highway Patrol, the SBI, Greensboro police, UNCG police, North Carolina A&T police, Guilford County Sheriff's Office, Guilford County EMS and Greensboro Fire Department, and more.

"We can communicate great within our departments, but when you get the different agencies together, communicating between the agencies sometimes is a problem,” Church said.

That’s why the event had several still and video photographers to document the whole thing, so agencies can review what they did right and what they can improve.

"With speeds that quick it's really hard to evaluate things in this real-time environment,” Smith said.

And towards the end, they even rolled out a bomb squad for the scenario. Several state and local lawmakers were active observers during the drill and able to go inside the perimeter to get a closer look.