SAN MARCOS — The silence that enshrouded a seasonally dormant Cal State San Marcos campus was broken by a cacophony of gunfire, screams, police and ambulance sirens and the deafening sound of landing helicopters.
Yellow police tape cordoned off Kellogg Plaza, as heavily armed law enforcement officers went on the hunt for the alleged assailant.
Amid the tense manhunt, Micah Savin walked up to school officials posted near the yellow caution tape.
“How do I get to class?” he said calmly.
The juxtaposition of events was fitting, as the gunfire, manhunt and ensuing triage was part of a simulated “active shooter” drill, aimed at helping law enforcement, first responders and the university prepare for the possibility of a gunman on campus.
School officials said that events around the world — the recent terrorist attacks in Paris — and domestically, such as the San Bernardino attacks, make drills like Wednesday’s even more important.
“Recent events … unfortunately make this something we have to be prepared for,” university spokeswoman Margaret Chantung said. “If not at Cal State San Marcos, it gives us all the opportunity to use the skills we learn anywhere, not just here.”
The campus hosted two drills on Wednesday, which coincided with winter intersession on campus, the four-week period between semesters where most of the 14,000 students are still on vacation. Chantung said the date was selected to interfere with the fewest amount of students and employees.
The university provided notice to students and staff who would be on campus before and after the holidays.
About 40 people — law enforcement officials and school staff members — had roles in the drill, and several law enforcement agencies, hospitals and other agencies participated in the shooting aftermath.
Everything about the drill was made to be realistic: college officials piped audio of people screaming through loudspeakers across campus, the “shooter” and law enforcement officials fired blank rounds and the 25 or so “victims” — members of the San Marcos Fire Academy who posed as wounded students — were complete with full wound makeup.
The most serious of the simulated victims were transported by air ambulance to three participating hospitals — Scripps Memorial hospitals in Encinitas and La Jolla, Rady Children’s Hospital and Palomar Hospital.
“Those hospitals got the opportunity to take part in the drill so they too could prepare for the scenario,” Chantung said.
Cal State San Marcos has never had an on-campus shooting, though it did have a false alarm in 2014, when the school was placed on lockdown after a report of a man with a rifle on campus. The “rifle” turned out to be an umbrella, and the incident has come to be known on campus as “the umbrella incident.”
But that incident and today’s drill underscored to students, teachers and administrators on campus how real of a possibility a campus shooting can be.
“It is rather surreal…the sight of helicopters landing on campus puts you in a different place, and makes it hard to get to class,” said Savin as he walked to class. “But it does reassure me that if something does happen, the campus is prepared.”