Locked Down: Ocala Campus Tests Students' Emergency Response Skills

Thursday, Aug. 28 started off like any other day at Rasmussen College’s Ocala campus, except it wasn’t just any other day. Later that day, an armed robber would flee the scene at a gas station near the campus, causing a deadly car crash. The gunman would make his way into the campus—leading to a lockdown. The SWAT Team and dispatch center would be involved, and there would be casualties and a hostage situation. There would also be students learning more than they ever could’ve imagined.

Luckily … this elaborate situation was only a staged scenario that took place on campus that day.

How the mock scenario came to be

Chris Wichelman, program coordinator at the campus, had been working closely for months with Lonnie Blackburn, Marion County Fire and Rescue captain, to provide a multi-car crash mock scenario for Ocala campus medical assistant and criminal justice students. Never in her wildest dreams did she think they would be able to pull off such an intricate mock scenario.

“I originally went to [Lonnie] with a car accident idea and it escalated from there,” Wichelman said.

There were seven community agencies involved in the activities from the day:

  • Marion County Fire and Rescue performed extrication, medical treatment and transport.
  • Ocala Fire and Rescue performed medical treatment and triage for all victims involved.
  • Marion County Sheriff’s Office dispatched their SWAT team.
  • Ocala Police Department performed scene control, investigation and perimeter control.
  • Marion County Communications Center dispatched all units.
  • Marion County Emergency Management provided the command trailer and signs.
  • ShandsCair provided the air flight for the trauma alert patient.

“The goal of the training was to provide progressive training for all fire/EMS and police departments in Marion County, as well as peak interest in students attending Rasmussen College criminal justice and medical programs,” Wichelman said.

Ocala medical assistant student Christina Graham said it was interesting to see all the working components and everything the students would have an opportunity to participate in.

“It increased our excitement the more we prepared and found out who we would be working with,” she added.

Preparing the school

It was important everyone on campus knew about the mock scenario because it was going to affect everyone. Staff made sure to go from class to class to discuss the mock scenario and explain what was going to happen. Medical assistant students, who would be working directly with an EMT, firefighter or paramedic, did a practice run-through with the fire department on situations like back boarding patients. Criminal justice students met with SWAT team members and police officers who talked them through the details of the day.    

“The experience gives students an idea of what to look out for, who is going to get involved [should anything like this ever happen] and reinforces the idea to not get as nervous if something like this happens,” Wichelman said.  

“You hear about accidents all the time, but you can only imagine what the patient and first responders are thinking and going through,” Graham said.

Play-by-play of the mock scenario

There was an active robbery at a local gas station and the armed robber fled the scene in his vehicle, soon after causing a multi-car crash near the Rasmussen College Ocala campus. The fire department was needed to perform extrication. One of the car crash “victims” was killed on site due to injuries sustained during the crash and the other “victim”—Graham—was alive, but suffered major injuries.

“Initially there was a dummy in the car, but once they performed extrication, fire fighters put me inside the vehicle for 30 minutes,” Graham said.

The experience was life-altering for Graham, who found the experience hot and scary. She said she received a renewed appreciation for first responders.

“I was putting myself in the position of a car crash victim and what they were thinking,” Graham said.

When removing Graham from the totaled vehicle, the fire fighters and first responders took a back seat to the medical assistants. They worked on holding her neck, putting her on the back board and making sure she was secure. Graham was able to listen to directions step-by-step.

“It was absolutely a learning experience, and something any one of us might have to do one day,” Graham said.

After the car crash, the robber ran on foot from his car into the college. The robber—turned armed shooter—shoved his way past a student upon entering the school and had an argument with the front desk receptionist and shot her in the shoulder. The college immediately went on lock down when the active shooter was reported. The shooter made his way to a medical assisting lab where he held the class hostage. The SWAT team, accompanied by criminal justice students, entered the school with their police dog; they negotiated with the active shooter through the classroom door. They performed a signal to let the gunman know they were coming in. The gunman shot two students and himself all while an instructor went into labor.

“The police officers, fire fighters and SWAT team took everything extremely serious,” Graham said. “They were fast moving and came into the school like it was a real shooting. They really showed us a large amount of professionalism in that field and the importance of remaining calm and staying focused.”

Why do a mock scenario?

There is a lot to learn when you’re in a chaotic situation, and what better way to learn what to do than to practice it out? Medical assistant students used their skills to provide triage assessment, take vital signs and learn how to tend to trauma victims.

Justice studies students got a taste of what it’s like at an accident/crime scene. They got to experience what the SWAT team does and what traffic police do, how they react and stay focused, and really see all the different moving parts of the criminal justice field.

“It went really well … we didn’t have any bad things happen,” Wichelman said. “Everything played out how it was supposed to.”

“This experience was really important,” Bebe Frisbie, student advisor at the Ocala campus said. “Hopefully, it reinforced this as the career they want.”

About the author

Jennifer Pfeffer

Jennifer is a Content Marketing Specialist at Collegis Education who researches and writes articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She is passionate about learning and higher education and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

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