DHS facilitates shooter exercise at Mercyhurst

Abigail Rinard, Staff writer

Over spring break, the Department of Homeland Security facilitated an Active Shooter Tabletop Exercise at Mercyhurst University. The exercise took place on March 8, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Center for Academic Engagement.

Bob Winters, a protective security adviser for the Pittsburgh District of DHS, ran the exercise. The scenario was that an active shooter was on campus, and the exercise provided the opportunity for Mercyhurst to practice its emergency response plan.

“We brought in some of our federal, county and local partners,” D.J. Fuhrmann, Mercyhurst police chief, said.

These partners included the City of Erie Emergency Management, Emergycare, Erie Fire Department, Erie County Sheriff’s Office, Erie County Public Safety, the Erie Office of the FBI, as well as the Erie Police department, including both its SWAT team and bomb squad.

President Michael T. Victor also attended the training. Various administrators and faculty attended as well, representing their particular departments.

“It’s good for us, not only for us, but for them too, to look at our processes and how we’re going to collaborate, should something like this happen,” said Fuhrmann. “It opened a dialogue between all the agencies in the room.”

Fuhrmann continued, explaining how each agency looks at the scenario from their own area of expertise, giving a multitude of perspectives.

“It gave a lot of good feedback on what we’re doing right and what needs to be improved,” said Fuhrmann. “It was a good gauge for our readiness.”

The exercise itself looked at four separate components: the initial response phase, the tactical phase, the assessment phase and the post-incident phase. If a situation were to occur, Mercyhurst Police and Safety would have the initial response, and the other agencies would come afterwards and collaborate.

Part of this initial response includes sending out an initial text response to students, which is in the process of being reformulated to be more effective.
Though Mercyhurst has had somewhat similar exercises on previous occasions, it has not been done on this scale. The driving force behind the exercise was President Victor, and his commitment to campus safety.

The preparations for potential crises on campus is not likely to end with the Active Shooter Tabletop Exercise.

“We’re going to sit down and continue talking to Dr. Laura Zirkle,” Fuhrmann said.

Continued precautions may include ALICE training, a type of active shooter response training. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. Training in the future could also include more of the faculty and staff, as well as students.

Mercyhurst Police and Safety was confident in its abilities to handle a shooter on campus, should it happen.

“We do have a good plan in place,” said Fuhrmann. “It was good to get affirmation of things that we had in our emergency response team.”