It’s Friday, you’ve been at work for several hours. Your coffee is starting to get cold and that’s when the announcement comes over the speaker, “Code Gray.” A shooter is in the building. Moments later, you hear shouts, doors slamming, pounding and the blast of a firearm. This isn’t real. It’s an exercise being held to test the emergency preparedness of a facility and its staff and it’s known as an “Active Shooter Drill”.

In its most common form, the active shooter drill is an orchestrated and deliberate practice. Administrators are notified in advance and faculty are made aware of the impending exercise. In some cases however, they are not. And it’s when participants aren’t made aware that they are about to be involved in a fake hostage situation or armed-assault that things get very dangerous.

Currently, half of the states in the nation have laws requiring active shooter drills in some form. The drills were devised as a response to the overabundance of shootings in recent years and aim to help individuals unfortunate enough to find themselves in such a terrifying and traumatic experience to respond more effectively. But for the people experiencing an unannounced drill, the practice is as visceral as the real thing.

Two weeks ago, the Florida Department of Health hosted one of these, allegedly unannounced, active shooter drills at a facility in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. That day, patients were in rooms awaiting to be seen by healthcare providers when in walked a Ft. Walton Beach Police Sergeant dressed in street clothes and brandishing a .38 revolver loaded with blanks. He opened fire.

According to individuals familiar with the event, at that point, an announcement should have gone over the intercom that a Code Gray was occurring but the intercom was broken. Instead, patients and employees heard loud noises and others in the building call out, “There’s a shooter in the building!”

Allegedly, administrators at the facility were aware that the active shooter drill would be taking place but chose to withhold that information from staff. For the staff, that day was the real thing. The chaos and confusion, fear and frustration, were just as tangible as though the gun had been loaded with hollow points rather than blanks.