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Law enforcement trains for trouble at NIU

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University police Sgt. Jason Wright said he is always training, so he was physically and emotionally prepared for the university's full-scale active shooter training Friday.

Wright was an NIU police officer during the Feb. 14, 2008, campus shooting in which five people were killed and 21injured before the gunman took his own life. Friday's simulation staged seven deaths and 14 injuries, for a total of 21 "shooting victims."

"You train, you train, you train," Wright said, "so when something happens, you're as prepared as you can possibly be."

With the full-scale training exercise at Lincoln Hall dormitory, NIU became the first in DeKalb County to receive a certificate for completing the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System's Agency Preparedness Program. State police, DeKalb County Sheriff's deputies, and Sycamore and DeKalb police participated in the simulation, with FBI officers on hand observing.

There were about 90 first responders and more than 200 total participants in the simulation, said NIU police Chief Tom Phillips.

The simulation involved four shooters who were each in the dormitory to give all the participants the opportunity to utilize their training, Phillips said.

Phillips focused on the fact that so many local police officials worked together.

"This was about bringing that team together and moving forward as a community," Phillips said.

NIU police Cmdr. Don Rodman agreed. He was an NIU police officer in 2008 and responded to the shooting by tending to the wounded in the medical triage.

Rodman coordinated with volunteers and first responders during the simulation. He said he wasn't worried about it bringing up bad memories.

"We want to make sure we're improving as individuals, as police officers in the department and as law enforcement in general," he said. "We can put ourselves in the situation and take away points to always get better."

NIU has done active-shooter training simulations in the past, but Friday's was the first full-scale exercise and involved more people.

The Illinois State Police tactical response team went into Lincoln Hall. Emergency medical technicians put "wounded" actors on stretchers and into ambulances.

Katie Roley played a wounded person. Roley, a health educator at DeKalb County Health Department, still had red stains on her shirt after the exercise.

Roley also chewed on a blood packet that gushed a red substance similar to blood out of her mouth. When rescuers found her, they put a tag on her and told her she didn't survive.

Wright's role in the simulation was to respond to the media during a mock news conference. In 2008, he helped clear Cole Hall.

Wright said he remembers that day any time he hears the phrase active shooter, but he said he has adjusted fairly well since then, because the police department trains with so many simulations.

"We've practiced it so much so you have an opportunity to grieve," Wright said. "I was fine doing the things I needed to do."

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