CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- SWAT teams, police cars and an ambulance converged on the University of Charleston campus Wednesday to practice what they and university staff would do if a gunman showed up on campus and opened fire.
UC President Ed Welch said university staff got together with local emergency services providers, law enforcement and training drill planners to set up a scenario to test the school's ability to respond to an active shooter and inform students and parents about the emergency as it unfolded. Planners spent weeks working on the drill to make the scenario as realistic as possible.
"It's a sad reality that you have to do it," Welch said of the drill. "But it's a dangerous world. College campuses are very open places."
Students, faculty and some staff were told well in advance that an emergency scenario would be run on Wednesday, but didn't know when or what kind of emergency it would be. Some staff members -- and Welch himself -- knew only that the scenario would involve an active shooter.
But just as no military plan survives first contact with the enemy, planners quickly threw a monkey wrench into the drill by adding a second armed gunman, a fact Welch didn't find out about until after the first gunman walked right past his office in Riggleman Hall, effectively isolating Welch for the rest of the drill.
The scenario began at 9:35 a.m. with a report of a UC security officer down with multiple gunshot wounds. The shooter ran into Riggleman Hall on the eastern end of campus. The campus alert system crackled into life a few minutes later, with loudspeakers blaring campus-wide warnings. "There is a shooter in Riggleman Hall," students and staff were told. "Lock down and hide out until further instructions."
At the announcement, students hunkered down where they were, whether in their dorm rooms, in the cafeteria or in class. Classroom students locked their doors and piled their desks against the door to serve as a barricade, and were instructed to huddle in a far corner where they were theoretically out of sight of the shooter.
At the same time, the campus alert system sent out text and email messages to students. Some got the messages immediately, while others experienced a delay. Welch said planners have not figured out a pattern of who got messages first, or why.
Kanawha County sheriff's deputies and Charleston police arrived at 9:41. Four Kanawha County sheriff's deputies armed with assault rifles entered Riggleman Hall a few minutes later, tracked down the suspect and arrested him.
A second report came in about another gunman in the Geary Student Union a few minutes later. Officers didn't know at first if the report was genuine.