CITYWIDE — Communication could have been better, but overall City Hall’s response to last year’s mass shooting that ended on the Santa Monica College campus was a success, city officials said in a recent report.
The city of Santa Monica Office of Emergency Management (OEM) released a 28-page report about what was learned from the way various departments handled the incident.
On June 7 of last year, John Zawahri, 23, shot and killed five people, including his father and brother, before he was fatally wounded by police in the Santa Monica College library.
Quick response, particularly by the Santa Monica Police Department and the college police, was lauded in the OEM’s report.
“Fast action [by both parties] brought an end to this incident in less than 14 minutes,” the report said. “The actions of many individuals were responsible for the successful outcome and this is due to several factors including training, organizational relationships, and a rapid response.”
SMPD had recently done an active shooter training exercise. College library staff went through a similar training just weeks prior and it “most definitely saved lives of both students and staff,” the report said.
Still, the report said, there were lessons to be learned.
For one thing, SM Alerts, a mass notification system that sends out text messages during an emergency to anyone who opts in, wasn’t used until several hours after the shooting.
“There was a challenge in using the system due to the ever changing nature of the event,” OEM’s report said. “However, a message to the public needs to be formulated and disseminated in the initial response phase.”
Another hitch was the fact that some sections of City Hall’s Emergency Operations Center, which is meant to support the responders on the ground by analyzing and disseminating information, were empty. While the management and logistics sections of the center were staffed, the operations section was vacant because “members were in the field responding to the emergency,” OEM officials said. “This proved to be problematic.”
Local and regional partners need better access to SMPD’s radio system, which is not public unlike many jurisdictions.
Currently, there are only a few SMPD police radios at the college.
“Fortunately, during this event, one of the first responding college police officers had one of the radios and was able to provide critical information to the Santa Monica Police Department which resulted in the quick identification and containment of the threat,” the report said. “Additionally, the Beverly Hills Police Department was concerned with the limited access.”
Some terms, like “lockdown,” shelter in place,” “victims,” “patients,” “witnesses,” and “casualties” mean different things to different departments and this caused confusion. City Hall is working on more unified lingo.