Active shooter exercise provides critical training for a very real threat

VCU, Richmond police departments participate in simulation on Monroe Park Campus

 A VCU Police officer (left) stops police recruits (right) who pretended to be victims during the...
A VCU Police officer (left) stops police recruits (right) who pretended to be victims during the active shooter training. Officers, actors and training staff were required to wear protective gear and identifying jerseys to enter the Shafer Street Playhouse during the live exercises.
Photo by Julia Rendleman, University Relations

Alone and in pairs, police officers cautiously made their way into Shafer Street Playhouse on Wednesday with two main goals: neutralize the active shooter and render first aid to the wounded.

They were participating in an active shooter exercise on Virginia Commonwealth University’s Monroe Park Campus. About 30 patrol officers with VCU Police and Richmond Police were tasked with coordinating a joint response to a simulated threat — a threat that is a very real concern for police and college administrators across the country.

During real active shooter incidents, dozens of police officers and fire and rescue personnel will flood a scene quickly. With so many resources pouring in to help, practicing roles and procedures ahead of time streamlines the public safety response.

We prepare for all hazards and know that each second of a situation makes a difference.

“A simulation such as this gives us the opportunity to integrate resources,” said VCU Police Chief John Venuti. “When we know what to expect and continually practice, it makes the response that much quicker. We prepare for all hazards and know that each second of a situation makes a difference.”

In three versions of the training scenario, officers wore protective masks and used simunition (firearms that shoot blank bullets) to take down one simulated shooter inside the playhouse. Sounds from the shooter’s shotgun could be heard at least a block away, but the noise came from a nondescript room inside the building.

While officers never quite know what they are faced with in a real situation, Venuti said tactical training is critical in finding and neutralizing the person trying to inflict additional harm on others.

“After they isolate a shooter and end the threat, officers immediately turn to the victims to start managing injuries as best they can at the scene,” Venuti said. VCU Police officers are equipped with blood trauma kits on their duty belts for this very purpose.

Throughout the year, VCU Police train with other agencies to maintain a high level of preparedness for active shooters and numerous other threats they could someday face.

“Overall these exercises get us thinking about best practices,” Venuti said. “They immerse officers in a high-stress environment, something that’s tough to do when you’re just talking about a response instead of physically running through it.”

VCU Police crime prevention officers also meet with groups of students, faculty and staff members to prepare them for how to respond if a shooter is inside a building, including the “Run. Hide. Fight.” response. They also conduct walk-throughs of offices to let staff know how to best secure their classes and work spaces.

Should people suspect that someone in their own life — or in the life of a coworker or classmate — could be violent, they are encouraged to contact VCU Police for a threat assessment of the situation.

“Unfortunately we live in a day and age where all of us have to be ready for the worst-case scenario and we do everything we can to prepare officers and our community,” Venuti said. “Often there are red flags around a person who could become violent and we are adamant about investigating all physical, verbal and social media threats that are brought to our attention.”

More information on workplace and classroom safety

  • A threat assessment team, including police and university administrators, routinely reviews cases of possible threats in the classroom and in the workplace: . This website is one click away for anyone on a VCU-owned computer; the “VCU safety” icon links directly to this page.
  • Everyone at VCU is encouraged to sign up for VCU Alerts: VCU has an extensive alerting system that includes text messages, digital signage, Alertus boxes and sirens that can be activated for all hazards.


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