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This ‘COPS’ stars our cops
Emergency crews descended on Oak Harbor High School with lights and sirens flashing. A thick fog had settled over the campus and they could make out the silhouettes of frightened students racing from the building. With guns drawn, police cautiously approached the campus to search for bad guys.
It’s a terrifying scenario, and one of many life-like scenes in a one-hour documentary following a shooting drill last November. The Media Arts Club spent a year editing the footage and will premiere the film this Friday in the Student Union Building.
“As filmmakers, we were surprised by the intensity of it,” video teacher Chris Douthitt said. “And also by the time it took. It wasn’t like TV, where things get solved instantaneously.”
The mass casualty drill —- the first of its kind in the city —- was designed to test and prepare law enforcement, the fire department, medical services and school officials for the worst. In the aftermath of school shootings such as Columbine, and the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, departments across the map have stepped up “active shooter” training, Oak Harbor Police Lt. John Dyer said.
In this case, agencies city-wide practiced working together and creating a unified command. Details of the drill were kept quiet from emergency responders, and they weren’t sure where it would be or what kind of incident to expect.
“The purpose was to get a true feel, and find what the real-time problems would be,” Dyer said.
The student filmmakers collected 10 hours of footage that night, which they boiled down to about 59 minutes. The video feels like the TV show COPS and features dozens of high school Key Club students, who volunteered to put on gory makeup for the exercise.
In the opening of the film, they discuss their “injuries,” such as facial cuts and gunshot wounds.
“I’m getting shot in the upper back and I’m supposed to complain of trouble breathing and make it hard for them to get answers out of me,” one student explains.
After the set-up, the second half of the film shows the actual drill, in which a gunman locks himself in a classroom with hostages. Law enforcement carefully secure the hallways so that paramedics can remove the injured students from the building.
“I was impressed at how seriously they took it. The guy who played the bad guy played the part mean and yelled at the students,” Douthitt said. “All the responders were told to ignore the camera and they did.”
Later, the standoff went south and the gunman opened fire with blank rounds in the classroom. The police rushed in, secured the shooter and freed the screaming hostages. A few students giggled as they emerged outside.
“That was like the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” said a female student laid out on a stetcher said. “Oh my God, I’m in the back of an ambulance.”
The documentary was passed along to the Oak Harbor Police Department, and today the entry team uses it for training, Dyer said. At the high school, the video production class uses the film to learn documentary techniques.
“There’s some shaky camera work, but there is in COPS too,” Douthitt said.
The film is close to the action and shows many of the events happening simultaneously, without confusing the viewer. The dark, foggy weather diffused the light and gave it a cool look, Douthitt added.
Dyer says he hopes the community will come to appreciate the difficulty and complexity of dealing with a large-scale emergency situation. Both he and Lt. Craig Anderson of the Oak Harbor Fire Department will be at Friday’s screening to answer questions.
“This isn’t something we normally get to see,” Douthitt said. “Because everyone is serious you get to see how they really react and what’s involved.”
The premiere will begin at 7 p.m. Friday, March 19, in the Student Union Building at Oak Harbor High School. Tickets will be sold at the door for $3. It’s presented by the Key Club and Media Arts Club as a fundraiser.