Montgomery County

FMCC drill helps prepare police for the worst

A small group of police officers got acquainted with the new campus housing at Fulton-Montgomery Com

A small group of police officers got acquainted with the new campus housing at Fulton-Montgomery Community College on Thursday during an exercise that included a simulated attack by a gunman.

An ambulance parked down the road from the college as several monitors waited near the Raider Hall housing complex until two loud bangs sounded.

One of the coordinators called out “Shots fired,” and an alarm system started blaring throughout the campus before two police cars arrived.

Victims — played by college employees — were smeared with blood. One sat against a wall near the residence hall’s northernmost entrance.

FMCC President Dustin Swanger said police practiced three different scenarios during the drill. The first ended with police calling out “Suspect has been neutralized.” Subsequent drills entailed police deaths, he said.

Ten or 15 years ago, such practice sessions were rare, but today, they’re necessary.

“Fifteen years ago, you didn’t really hear about shootings on college campuses,” Swanger said.

The 1999 massacre of 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado and the killing of 32 on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007 drew worldwide attention. But Swanger said a recent conference he attended revealed the frequency with which violent incidents take place at educational facilities.

Last year, a small Texas community college saw a shooting over a parking space, and three weeks later, a student with a scalpel went through the hallways of the same school, slashing other students.

“For us to think that it can’t happen here would be irresponsible,” Swanger said.

The small number of police officers on the scene — about five — was not indicative of what would take place in an actual emergency, Swanger said. Other agencies were invited to participate in Thursday’s event, but scheduling conflicts likely prevented more from attending.

He said city police from Amsterdam, Johnstown and Gloversville, as well as state police, Fulton and Montgomery county sheriff’s deputies, and ambulance companies all would converge in the event of an actual shooting.

The college has hosted police tours of the new student housing facility since it was opened last fall, Swanger said, and it was during those tours that police suggested the college hold an exercise.

The fact that the drill took place when the campus is basically empty doesn’t limit its usefulness, he said.

Police have discussed the option of doing a drill while classes are in session, but decided that would be too cumbersome.

“Overwhelmingly the officers said this is more productive for us if we do it when the campus is empty because it really gives us an opportunity to play out scenarios without people getting unduly excited,” Swanger said.

The college will hold other drills in the future, but given the cost, they will take place only periodically, he said.

FMCC Public Safety Director Mark Pierce had no comment on Thursday’s drill.

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