Preparing for tragedy

A violent shooting spree, which left 33 people dead, gripped the lives of students at Virginia Tech University last year. And another that resulted in five fatalities shocked the Northern Illinois University campus just days ago.

Today, Florida A&M University is ensuring that the school is prepared to combat a similar attack should it happen.

The North Florida Regional Domestic Security Task Force will be conducting a full-scale mock school shooting exercise, called Operation School Safety. The exercise will occur from 8 a.m. to noon on campus and at the Cobb Middle School.

“This exercise is important because it gives us an opportunity to demonstrate our effectiveness and efficiency during an emergency situation,” said FAMU spokeswoman Sharon Saunders.

Considering the recent campus shootings and deaths, FAMU hopes to prove to its community that it has a plan in place to respond to such emergencies.

“In light of Virginia Tech, we need to make sure that we are prepared before an incident occurs,” Saunders said.

As part of the exercise, there will be an increased presence of law enforcement, emergency medical services, aircraft and other response agency personnel and vehicles at FAMU and Cobb Middle School.

NFRDSTF is comprised of law enforcement, fire and rescue, emergency management, health, schools, hospitals, emergency medical services, agriculture, military and transportation agencies from the 13 counties of North Central Florida. It is one of seven regional domestic security task forces in Florida that responds to natural and man-made disasters.

The University’s Office of Public Affairs stated that periodic exercises are conducted in order to challenge and evaluate the response and mitigation capabilities of NFRDSTF so it may better protect Floridians. All efforts will be made to minimize any inconvenience to the public during the exercise.

The simulation will be the first of its kind conducted on campus. It could help to raise student awareness about crisis management. The mock exercise is designed to motivate students to sign up for the e2Campus alert system. E2Campus uses text messages and e-mails to inform subscribers of any crime that has taken place and warns them to avoid certain areas.

FAMU has offered the e2 alert service for more than a year. Sirens, another program feature, also alert those outside of a building to any possible danger.

Students can sign up for the e2Campus alert system at

“We believe we are prepared because we have several communication tools in place to assist us in getting the word out about an emergency,” Saunders said. “What we’re doing is we are encouraging all faculty and staff and students to sign up for the e2Campus alert because this will be the first system used to send messages to the campus in case of an emergency.”

Tashanna Prescott, 22, a senior education student from Hollywood, said the simulation would put a tragedy of that magnitude in perspective for students.

“I’m not sure what I would do,” Prescott said. “I would have to be placed in that kind of situation to actually know, but if anything else, I would try to leave the campus.”

Other students echoed Prescott’s views.

“I’d probably leave and find the nearest exit,” said Natasha Dejesus, 22, a senior health science student from Bronx.

Marcus Santiago, 20, a sophomore history student from Celebration, Fla., said he is familiar with the drill – it was done at his high school.

“When dealing with a gun situation, the teacher would lock the door and tell us to stay against the wall,” Santiago said.

He said his strategy would be to inform other students about the situation before leaving.

“I would try and call the police and do what I can to help,” Santiago added.

Officials conducting the exercise said they hope students will be on one accord on how to respond after the simulation takes place.

NFRDSTF personnel were unavailable for comment at press time.