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Holyoke Community College plans ‘active shooter’ exercise

Wednesday, Holyoke Community College will host a daylong exercise to train faculty and staff on how to react to an “active shooter” on campus.

Graduate students from Boston University’s emergency preparedness program will portray the shooter, the accomplice, victims and bystanders, while faculty, staff and emergency personnel from local and state fire, police and medical departments react to the situation.

John J. Burke, associate director of the Boston University School of Medicine’s Healthcare Emergency Management Graduate Program, is coordinating the drill along with Holyoke Fire Chief John Pond and Police Chief James Nieswanger.

The college has worked to educate faculty and staff on emergency preparedness, but has never hosted a drill like this, said HCC spokeswoman Erica Broman.

“It’s going to be more effective because it’ll be unfolding in real time, and we’ll have to react in real time,” she said. “These are the kinds of situations where you don’t really know what you’re going to need until you’re in it.”

The drill will begin with an actor playing a disgruntled student opening fire in a classroom, while an accomplice waits in the parking lot with a getaway car. Law enforcement officers will be standing by with unloaded weapons marked “safe.” The college has sent out multiple notifications to warn students that an emergency drill will be happening on campus.

Recent events, like the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and at Lone Star College in Houston have shown that schools can be extremely vulnerable to this kind of violence.

“Oftentimes, events like these take place on college campuses,” Broman said. “We are a very open campus. There’s a lot of people coming on and off campus all the time. It’s especially important for us to be up to par.”

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