Summit County emergency crews stage mass shooter simulation
Summit County emergency responders converged in Frisco and Breckenridge on Sept. 28 for a drill simulating a mass shooting.
Law enforcement, staff and volunteers alike were asked to treat the event as reality in order to get the most benefit out of what is essentially a learning opportunity.
“The purpose is not to prove how great we are,” said Steve Lipsher, press information officer for Lake Dillon Fire.
He added that the goal in these trainings is to see where the holes are, as well as where responders could do better. He also said that despite the scripted aspect of the trainings, it is important to remember that a real-life situation would require a lot of thinking on your feet.
“There’s a sort of artificiality to it when you’re play acting. You’re still going through all of the steps, hopefully, but you don’t feel the same sense of urgency, and you do kind of keep one foot in both worlds,” said Lipsher.
Erin Opsahl, the clerk and receptionist for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, was one of the people working the simulation. She said that in the past there have been more public information officers in the drills to help with call volume. But, she said that the large call volume, both scripted and not, helped to add to the stress of the situation, making it feel more like the real thing.
Around 9 a.m. the drill started with a report of an active shooter at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco. The actor playing the shooter quickly moved on to the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge, where most of the drill was focused. Joel Cochran, the undersheriff and the person who created the scenario, said that this was an important part of the drill. The county usually does not deal with situations where a suspect would be crossing jurisdiction lines. By adding this to the simulation, law enforcement was able to test communications between different groups.
“One of our things is to create complex process pieces that people don’t normally encounter, like in this case multiple venues, multiple jurisdictions, multiple coinciding events, it doesn’t regularly happen in our community. So it gives the incident commanders the opportunity to practice around shifting priorities,” he said.
The simulation had 21 injured victims at the Riverwalk Center. The shooter then barricaded himself in a room, where responders found him. They broke into the room once it was determined the shooter was not moving.
Cochran said that keeping the shooter in an “active status” was another key to the training.
“In our previous drills we’ve followed the national statistic where the shooter typically kills themselves, and when that happens in an event, that takes away that threat to the responders,” he said.
Although the drill did end with the shooter taking his own life, it was an important distinction that first responders acted as if the shooter was still active for a longer period in the drill. Cochran added that this was also to test how different law enforcement communities communicated with each other when the threat was still considered active.
At 2 p.m., a mock press conference was held in the F-Lot in Breckenridge. Interim Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, Breckenridge deputy police chief Nicola Erb, St. Anthony Summit Medical Center’s chief medical officer Dr. Marshall Denkinger and County Commissioner Dan Gibbs each gave a statement about the shooter, the victims and community support. They closed with mock questions.
Cochran said that the county has been a part of an active exercise program for the last 15 years. He said that while they do trainings with responder groups individually, these large-scale drills are important to see how everything fits together.
For Lipsher, doing these drills year after year is an important part of the success first responders would have in a real situation.
“If you don’t use these skills, if you don’t practice these systems, you sort of have to go back to square one,” he said.
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