How UC Davis and WNCC Prepare for Campus Shootings

Realistic training and input from community partners is how UC Davis and Western Nebraska Community College ready their campuses for active shooter events.

The department used a two-story facility on campus for its full-scale exercise in 2009 that involved the local fire department as well as police agencies from Sacramento, the Bay Area and other colleges.

“The referees and the evaluators [for the exercise]…were all from outside agencies,” Carmichael says. “We wanted to get the most bang for our buck, so we did not use our internal staff except for one safety officer. Beyond that, we did not use our own instructors because we wanted them all to be part of the play.”

“Classrooms” were created in the facility, where student volunteers received lectures from professors. Smoke machines made it appear as if a fire had started in the building and “shooting victims” in theatrical makeup were placed throughout the facility.  

The building was divided into cold, warm and hot zones. The UC Davis men’s basketball team volunteered to hold a fake class in the “hot zone” where simunition training took place.

To heighten anxiety, the Yolo County Bomb Squad detonated an explosive in a car near campus. Dispatchers handling calls for the exercise also handled regular calls for the university and medical center for the duration of the exercise.

“Other than the loose script of two suspects simulating a variation of the Columbine [shooting], play in the field drove [this exercise],” says Carmichael. “We had people from the community that responded in different ways. Some hid for quite some time, some escaped, some were armed [with fake weapons].”

Include Hostage Negotiation
On WNCC’s Scottsbluff campus, participating officers were alerted to the beginning of the active shooter drill by the firing of a starter pistol. The college held a multifaceted exercise in which classrooms were utilized and the automotive building was designated for tactical training.

“We shut down the automotive building for the day, and that’s where the operatives in the end…shot it out with the bad guys,” says Hessler. “The officers would infiltrate [a classroom in the building] to take [the suspect] out to save the student.”

Six different suspects were used in the drill “to make the drill active for the officers,” he explains. One suspect took student hostages so officers could practice their negotiation skills.


Because WNCC does not have a sworn police force and its security officers are only on duty at night, the exercise was intended for local police
agencies and emergency services. The drill on the Scottsbluff campus included the Scottsbluff Police Department as well as the Nebraska State Patrol, the Gering Police Department, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Regional West Medical Center in addition to several other agencies. Two SWAT teams were also present at the drill.

“The biggest improvement we’ve seen with this drill is it gets law enforcement familiarized with our college campus,” Hessler adds.

Involve Administrators, Faculty, Staff
Active shooter drills can help to familiarize administrators with campus procedures, says Hessler, “Once we get everything in place with all of our emergency management plans, we will put the information on a flash drive so that our administrators …can plug it into a laptop and have all the information right there.”

To ease active shooter response in the classroom, WNCC’s mass notification system instructs professors via telephone to “push one if you’re safe, push two if you have people injured and push three if you can hear the intruder. We are then able to print [that data] and know exactly where the intruder is by the responses from the faculty,” Hessler explains.

To measure the effectiveness of its active shooter exercise, UC Davis police tagged community participants according to whether or not they had previously attended an active shooter presentation. This allowed the department to determine if the presentation had improved response.

The presentations also inspired staff at the campus student health center to create their own lockdown plan.

View a video of UC Davis’ active student training for students and faculty.

“We worked together and they came up with a plan to lock down a substantial facility upon notification in less than seven minutes; most times they did it in about three minutes,” says Carmichael. “So we had a process – we share it, we work together with all of our facilities on campus. This is an ongoing process and we have 200 plus facilities on campus.”

Notify Your Community
Operating an active shooter drill during regular campus activity can be problematic if you do not properly inform your campus residents.

At UC Davis, police used media outlets, E-mail and pamphlets to inform the campus community of the upcoming drill. According to Carmichael, the effort was well worth it.

“We blew up a car on campus. We held an active shooter exercise in the middle of the day and we received no false calls and that’s after a several hour event,” says Carmichael.

“And that just didn’t happen out of the blue; it happened because we planned ahead,” he adds.

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