Durham County

Mock terror attack tests NCCU emergency response readiness

“Fire in the hole!”

Several hundred yards away thick white smoke erupted from an old, beat-up van.

The N.C. Central University Police Department conducted a terror attack training exercise Wednesday and the van — a mock-up of a campus shuttle bus — feigned the drop-off and pick-up of students at the University's Miller-Morgan Building.

State emergency response agencies and public safety personnel from Durham, Wake, Orange and Person counties including officers and staff from the Durham Police Department, Durham County Sheriff's Office and a crisis negotiator from the Cary Police Department participated.

Representatives from Duke University, Duke University Hospital and Durham Technical Community College also took part in the exercise.

The training was intended to test the emergency capabilities and preparedness of NCCU and the other agencies involved.

Participants were presented with a scenario which NCCU Emergency Management Coordinator Sgt. Robert McLaughlin Jr. described as a multifocal terrorist attack. Beginning with an announcement of the planned test conveyed over the NCCU emergency response speaker system, the campus went on lockdown for 20 minutes.

“Fire in the hole!”

The simulation started and the van began to smoke when a supposed suicide bomber triggered a detonator. He blew himself up as students were getting into the van, McLaughlin said. Students, played by volunteers, were “injured.”

A rescue force composed of a police officer leading two EMTs with his gun drawn, approached the wounded — actors yelling things along the lines of “Aahhh,” “Help” and “Help, Help, Aahhh” — triaged the burned and maimed and tagged their bodies to indicate their varying degrees of survivability.

While officers were responding to the injured students and assessing danger, one of them was told that he had taken fire from a hidden terror sniper.

The sniper “took him out,” McLaughlin said.

But not to worry, a secondary officer “came in and took out the bad guy,” McLaughlin said.

Simultaneous to the two shootings, officers received a call from a “terrorist” inside the building, and were told of an unfolding hostage situation inside the Miller-Morgan Building auditorium.

“Then, they realized they had two situations,” McLaughlin said. “They responded to go deal with the hostage situation. As they were going up there, they got two hostages to run out of the building and the bad guys fired rounds at them — at the good guys.”

The escaped-hostage actors pleaded with law enforcement, “Don't go in there. Shooting. Don't go in there, they'll shoot you.”

Enter, the negotiators.

The fake hostages were eventually rescued from the fake terrorists.

Armored rescue vehicles were on hand and over 200 law enforcement and public safety personnel participated. The entire campus will eventually be evaluated on its emergency lockdown readiness.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks