Eight years after the Virginia Tech massacre led to tighter security at colleges across the U.S., some schools make "active shooter" training mandatory for incoming students, while others offer little more than brief online guidance on what to do if there's a gunman on the loose, a review by The Associated Press finds.
Eight years after the Virginia Tech massacre led to tighter security at colleges across the U.S., some schools make “active shooter” training mandatory for incoming students, while others offer little more than brief online guidance on what to do if there’s a gunman on the loose, a review by The Associated Press finds.
The AP looked at public colleges and universities in more than 40 states after yet another shooting rampage, the killing of nine people at an Oregon community college Oct. 1. On Friday, there was more bloodshed, with one person killed and three wounded at an Arizona university.
At some institutions, such as the Colorado School of Mines and Arkansas State University, training on how to respond to an armed intruder has become as much a part of fall orientation as lessons on alcohol abuse. Students hear presentations covering their options, such as running, hiding or fighting back.
Other schools have purely voluntary training. Or they put information on what to do in an emergency on websites, where it can easily be overlooked by students and staff members. Many public college and university systems leave it up to their individual campuses to draw up emergency plans and decide what level of training, if any, to give employees and students.
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In the wake of the recent violence, some professors, students and administrators are asking whether schools need to do more to deliver potentially life-saving messages to those on campus.
The challenges are particularly acute at two-year community colleges, which often do not have their own police forces to conduct training exercises for staff and students. They also tend to have lots of older, working students who can be hard to reach.
“That it’s actually happened recently with the frequency and danger it has, I think everyone is frightened and asking a lot of questions about how well-prepared we would be as a campus,” said David Morse, an English instructor who is president of the Academic Senate for California’s 113 community colleges.
The 2007 slaughter of 32 people by a student at Virginia Tech prompted Congress to require colleges and universities to adopt procedures for notifying the campus of an immediate threat. Under the law, schools also must publicize their emergency response plans “in a manner designed to reach students and staff.”
The AP review found that most schools have set up sophisticated alert systems that use text messages, social media or technology that can remotely take over computers tied to campus servers. Many also have added armed officers, conducted drills with law enforcement authorities and created threat-assessment teams that try to determine whether an overheard remark or violence-tinged essay is a genuine danger sign.
Some of these measures are credited with saving lives. When a gunman shot students at a Florida State University library a year ago, campus police responded within minutes of the first 911 call and fired a barrage of bullets that killed him. Less than two weeks before, the police had participated in active shooter training that included a scenario with a gunman at the library.
Umpqua Community College, site of the Oregon mass shooting, also did many things right to prepare, and experts said its efforts may well have saved lives.
A small, rural school, Umpqua didn’t have its own police force, but administrators brought in local officers so they would be familiar with the layout. Professors and staff regularly discussed how they should respond if someone started shooting, and where in their buildings would be the safest place to hunker down. The school also had emergency notification and lockdown procedures in place.
But in general, educating students and employees about what to do in the event of an attack has proved something of a stumbling block. While most schools have created posters, brochures and online guides, some of them have yet to figure out how to get people to read, much less absorb, the material.
Richard Turton, chairman of West Virginia University’s Faculty Senate, said he wasn’t familiar with his school’s active shooter plan until a reporter’s question prompted him to do some digging. He found a PowerPoint presentation and videos on the university’s website.
“I would suspect many faculty who are very busy would tend to not look at those things unless they’re sort of prompted several times,” Turton said.
Matt Barnes, 30, a civil engineering student who just transferred to the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, received a booklet during orientation that outlined the school’s emergency notification procedures. He realized it didn’t mention anything about an active shooter situation.
Barnes said he gets emails any time there is a crime on campus with details about the incident. But he said he’s not sure what he’s supposed to do if something happens in a building where he happens to be.
University spokesman Steve Henneberry confirmed the booklet doesn’t specifically mention active shooter situations and said it was written from an “all-hazards planning point of view.”
On some campuses, some of the advice itself isn’t detailed or even particularly helpful.
The website of 20,000-student Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, advises students that in the event of a shooter or sniper, “listen for instructions from authorities such as whether to remain inside or to evacuate.” Campus security director Melissa Jensen said more specific training videos also are available.
The instructions can vary from campus to campus. Many schools have adopted the run, hide or fight-back training developed by the city of Houston and promoted by the FBI. Others have embraced the procedures developed by the I Love U Guys Foundation, which urges students to lock themselves in classrooms if it all possible.
At Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, the active shooter training that is mandatory for new students is voluntary for the faculty.
“How many faculty have availed themselves of these trainings? Unfortunately, the answer is not many,” said Greg Phillips, chairman of the Faculty Senate, which will take up the issue during the coming week.
Ron Hackenberg, a security consultant and former police chief at California State University-San Marcos, said the slayings in Oregon should spur more schools to go beyond voluntary training.
“In real life, unless you are a combat veteran, most people will freeze if they are not prepared,” he said.
In California, community college campuses historically have been given wide latitude in drawing up emergency preparations. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law in July that calls on the system to add active shooter training to the emergency planning it recommends for campuses.
Leff reported from San Francisco, and Foley from Iowa City, Iowa. Associated Press writers Amy Forliti in Minneapolis; Gene Johnson in Seattle; Claudia Lauer in Little Rock, Arkansas; and John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this story.