NEW PORT RICHEY — Justin Guillory coughed and sputtered in a medical lab on the second floor of Rasmussen College as one of his lungs collapsed. Leaning over him and applying pressure to the gunshot wound on his chest was Dan McKay, a medic with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office’s Special Weapons and Tactics Team.
“His lung collapsed. It’s gone,” said Sgt. Peter Roehring. “Make sure he keeps breathing.”
Fortunately, the wound and collapsed lung were part of a scenario, an “active shooter” training drill organized by the sheriff’s office’s SWAT team and Rasmussen administration. Guillory, a criminal justice student, was an actor pretending to be shot by two gunman, also actors, who entered the college building with a personal vendetta against their father, a patient in the medical wing.
“You can’t have a ‘head in the sand’ mentality,” chief forensic investigator and SWAT tactical commander James Steffens said about the importance of knowing what to do during an emergency situation. “We learn from every tragedy.”
The drill at Rasmussen College’s New Port RicheyWest Pasco Campus was one of many the SWAT team have performed. Last summer, they took four hours at the Medical Center of Trinity to resolve an active shooter situation in which CEO Leigh Massengill, was “held hostage” in the hospital’s administrative offices until the gunman, an actor, took his own life.
Several students in the school’s criminal justice program, like Guillory, got an inside look at how a SWAT team operates. They played the part of frightened and injured students responding to demands by the gunman and directions from SWAT members.
“It’s absolutely beneficial for these students,” said Jerry Lee, Rasmussen’s Florida program coordinator for justice studies. “We also have no formal protocol for this circumstance so now we have a better idea of how to prepare.”
The school lacks a speaker or text message alert system like the one the University of South Florida instituted a few years ago to send emergency texts about lockdowns, chemical spills and bomb threats to students and staff at the school. Several classrooms are unable to be locked from the inside to keep out an intruder.
Some of the student and staff actors responded to the lack of locks by barricading themselves inside with furniture, which SWAT members commended them for. It took tremendous effort on the part of two officers to wedge the door open.
Lee and director Tammy Jackson said they will discuss safety issues that turned up during the drill and how to fix them. Additionally, they will write an official protocol that tells faculty and staff what to do in emergency so they can pass the information on to students.
“We have to train the trainers,” Lee said.
This particular SWAT team has done about 150 missions, with several drills in between at Pasco hospitals, movie theaters and schools to hone their skills, help identify safety issues or potential security breaches and to familiarize themselves with the layout of the buildings in case a real emergency were to arise.
Steffens also teaches participants a brief version of FEMA’s National Training Program, which can be summed up in three words: run, hide, fight.
“You run from the danger,” Steffens said. “If you can’t run, you hide. If you can’t hide, you fight.”
You can follow Daylina Miller on Twitter at @DaylinaMiller.