Drill designed to protect turns contentious

April 21, 2010 8:56:03 PM PDT
A student reporter covering an emergency drill found himself in the middle of it all.An UNC School of Journalism student says on Wednesday morning he was assigned to cover an emergency drill at the Outdoor Education Center off Country Club Road, south of campus.

The emergency drill was being conducted by UNC's Department of Public Safety between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

"I heard the mock hostages in the simulation yelling for help," Senior Will Gorham said.

The university stated in a press release that actors would portray gunmen, hostages and victims to simulate the university's response to a shooter on campus. They also said local law enforcement and emergency response agencies would participate.

As Gorham approached Laurel Hill Road, what happened next was captured on his tape recorder.

    Gorham: Whoa, whoa, whoa, media, media, media. I'm sorry.
    Officer: Are you supposed to be in this area?
    Gorham: I'm...
    Officer: Are you supposed to be in this area?
    Gorham: I'm just on the outskirts of the road, sir. I'm not...
    Officer: Are you supposed to be in this area?
    Gorham: I did not know I was supposed to be in this area...
    Officer: Turn it off, please...
    Gorham: Yeah.

Gorham says a police officer put a gun to his back, even though he was not part of the event.

"It looked like a real weapon and I was terrified," he said. "There were no barricades, no officers, police tape, nothing to indicate that road was restricted."

He says the officer told him no one was allowed in that area, but a university press release said people would have full access to Country Club and Laurel Hill roads.

"Regular traffic and Chapel Hill Transit service in the area will not be affected," the release stated. "Residents will have full access to Country Club and Laurel Hill roads. University police will block access to the drill site from University property. Officers will be stationed around the perimeter."

In a news conference, campus safety officials said they were encouraged by officers' performance.

"The response I think was appropriate; the officer involved had no idea who the person was," UNC Public Safety Director Jeff McCracken said.

However, ABC11 Eyewitness News noticed several glitches with the drill.

An alarm was suppose to sound at 8:45 a.m. -- it never did. Text messages were suppose to go out at the same time, but they were six minutes late.

And the student journalist caught in the middle says he believes he had an unnecessarily rough encounter.

"I thought this is not right, this can't be," Gorham said.

Gorham says the officer did not apologize, but instead told him to turn his tape over to the campus' public safety department. Gorham did not and has not been contacted by the department.

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