First responders swarm Capitol Campus during active threat drill

Washington State Patrol officials say they need to be prepared for a worst-case scenario on the Capitol Campus, including active shooters and bombings.

“We just don’t know,” said WSP Capt. Johnny Alexander. “They’re occurring more and more now all over the world, and we have to be at the best level of preparedness that we possibly can.”

With about 8,000 people working on the campus Monday through Friday, and about 500,000 people visiting each year, Alexander said safety and security are top priorities.

That concern brought about 200 first responders to the campus Friday and Saturday for a large-scale drill. The State Patrol and Department of Enterprise Services hosted the event, which involved agencies from all over the region.

On Friday, law enforcement officers, firefighters and medics toured the buildings on campus.

But the real action started at 6 a.m. Saturday, when participants began responding to mock active shooters in the Cherberg, O’Brien, Legislative and Temple of Justice buildings. The drill was scheduled to run until midnight.

In a simulation that began about 10:30 a.m., Lacey police officers armed with guns escorted Olympia Fire Department medics into the Temple of Justice. They slowly brought actors posing as shooting victims outside to safety.

Olympia Fire Chief J.D. Young said this approach to rescuing victims is relatively new.

Under this model, medics enter “warm zones” — areas that haven’t been completely cleared of threats — to triage and retrieve patients who have a chance of surviving.

“What used to happen is we would wait until the entire building is clear,” Young said. “And for a building this size, that could be hours, maybe even a day or so, because they want to check everything. But during that time, people are inside there who are wounded. Now we go in, we pull out, we take that extra risk and give them that chance of survival.”

This new type of response requires lots of coordination between police and fire personnel, and both ideally have officials in the command center who can communicate in person.

Saturday wasn’t the first time the Olympia Fire Department and other South Sound agencies have practiced this new response. Last spring, agencies participated in a large active shooter drill at Tumwater’s South Puget Sound Community College.

Prior to that event, the Olympia Fire Department taught medics the basics of battlefield medicine and the theory behind the new response.

At midday Saturday, Alexander said the drill was going well and that the biggest challenge had been communication — partially because the agencies don’t often work together.

Participating agencies included the Olympia and Lacey police departments, the Olympia Fire Department, and SWAT teams from the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, Pierce County Metro, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The buildings themselves also create communications problems. Young said that because the buildings are large marble structures, it can be difficult to communicate by radio.

“These are historic buildings that have been around for quite some time,” Alexander said. “And technology wasn’t around when these buildings were built. But that’s something that we’re working on. We have a plan in place, and we should have that on the way here shortly.”

Curt Hart, spokesman for the Department of Enterprise Services, said special efforts were made to ensure the Capitol Campus buildings weren’t harmed during the drill. He said that while officers and medics may normally enter an active shooter situation by breaking down a door, that was all simulated Saturday.

“These are beautiful, old buildings, and we want to take care of them,” Hart said. “But at the same time, we know this drill is important. We’re working hand-in-hand with Washington State Patrol.”

Amelia Dickson: 360-754-5445, @Amelia_Oly