UM hosts largest police-training event in South Florida

POSTED AUG. 1 at 11:15 P.M.

White anthrax-like powder and shotgun bullet casings peppered the floor of a building surrounded by men carrying AR-14 assault rifles.

Though this sounds like a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie, it actually describes the Memorial classroom building on July 28, when the University of Miami hosted a police training exercise to test emergency response.

After the Virginia Tech shootings on April 16, many universities, including UM, decided to update their emergency response plans to prepare for a similar crisis.

The training exercises, also known as Operation Sandbox, included a mock drill of a hostage situation similar to that of Virginia Tech with a gunman, more than 100 students (some feigning injuries) and local and federal authorities.

The university invited representatives from every ACC school to attend the police training event, including Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum. Also, 19 municipalities participated in the exercises, such as the City of Coral Gables Police and Fire Departments, US Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Police officers and officials said the exercises were necessary to test equipment capabilities and communication levels between organizations.

“It gives us a chance to work with other agencies and play with new toys,” said Officer Frank Johnson, spokesperson for the CGPD. “With something of this magnitude, we are seeing how we will be able to communicate with each other in the case of a real event and what problems may come up.”

Although the event on Saturday lacked the pressures, uncertainties and fear of a real crisis, the institutions involved arranged multiple simulations and scenarios to mimic crisis situations. A crisis control center was set up behind Mahoney-Pearson to interact with those involved in the simulations.

“The supervisors were aware of the fake scenarios beforehand, but they were told not to share this information with the SWAT teams and bomb squads,” said John P. Pepper, UM’s crime prevention coordinator. “Ideally the practice still holds an element of surprise.”

By the end of the day, the leaders of the exercises were pleased with the final analysis of the day-long event.

“[The] University of Miami is highly prepared, along with our law enforcement partners, to handle anything,” said UM police chief David Rivero.

Karyn Meshbane is the News Editor and may be contacted at