Editor’s note: This is an extended version of the story that ran in the January 24th print edition of the Gateway.
Mass shootings are becoming a more frequent occurrence nationwide. Because of this, active shooter training sessions were held last week on Thursday Jan. 19 at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in the Milo Bail Student Center.
The active shooter training presentation opened with video clip interviews of the survivors of the Von Maur shooting which happened just down Dodge street at Westroads mall in 2007. The clip segued into the statistics that 45.6 percent of active shooter situations happen in areas of commerce, and 24.4 percent of active shooter situations happen in places of education.
The training session emphasized the importance of individuals to take their survival into their own hands in the case of an active shooter situation. According to the presentation, one third of active shooter incidents occur in two minutes or less, another third occur between two to five minutes and the last third are over in about 15 minutes. Response by emergency services often happens after the situation is already over.
“These incidents evolve rapidly and they end rapidly. It’s really dependent on the community to build resilience in this area.” Police Sgt. Dave Points, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, said.
The session focused on the tactics of “Run, Hide, Fight,” a three step method which is designed to increase the chances of a person to survive an active shooter situation. The first step someone in this situation should take is to run if at all possible. They should have an escape route in mind when fleeing and leave behind any belongings that may hinder their escape. People fleeing should help others to flee only if they are not too injured to easily move. When fleeing the scene of an active shooting, people should exit with their hands held above their head with fingers spread out so officers at the scene can be sure they are not holding a weapon and are therefore not a threat.
If it isn’t possible to run away from an active shooter situation, the training session offered the next step which is to hide. People should hide outside of a shooter’s view and somewhere protected from shots. Lights in a room should be turned off and any windows into the room should be blocked off if possible. Because most active shooters intend to hurt as many people as possible in a short window of time, making a room difficult to quickly enter may buy enough time for the shooter to move on away from those hiding inside.
The final step offered by the training session was one that should only be used if no other option is possible. In the case contact with an active shooter is unavoidable, people should fight for their lives. Points explained that people defending themselves need to be as aggressive as possible, ambushing the shooter and using teamwork if possible to each target a limb of the shooter to take a person down, while keeping the muzzle of the weapon pointed to the ground and away from people. In this situation, anything that can be used as a defensive weapon is a defensive weapon, such as chairs and fire extinguishers.
Points said that the training has had positive reactions, and that the training made people more aware of their surroundings. Before the training, people may not have thought about the best routes out of a building, or which way a door would open or shut, but after the training started to assess their situations accordingly. The presentation reinforced the importance of planning ahead. Many buildings on the UNO campus contain large glass windows where walls would usually stand. The Milo Bail Student Center was pointed out as one building that would be difficult to find a hiding place in during an emergency without prior planning, due to its open plan and expansive use of glass windows.
“If it were up to us,” Police Sgt. Vince Salerno said, “this place would be a fortress.”
Both Points and Salerno emphasized the importance of being aware not only of surroundings but also of people who may possibly be planning a shooting. They referenced the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 where several students noticed the chains that the shooter had used to prevent escape from the building, but did not alert the authorities. Points explained that if a member of the UNO community was overheard talking about wanting to hurt people on campus or seemed otherwise dangerous to campus, then that student should be reported to the UNO behavioral review team at unomaha.edu/brt, or in more urgent cases where a shooting is imminent then a direct emergency call should be made. It was reinforced that students and faculty should err on the side of being more cautious than less, and shouldn’t feel guilty about reporting any suspicions about any person.
“People are worried about being politically correct—that’s the police’s job.” Salerno said.
While many K-12 schools hold emergency drills campus wide for active shooter situations, preparedness on the UNO campus is usually contained to these smaller training sessions. Points cited safety as a main factor for this. Drills have to be controlled and if they are not planned out and done safely, unnecessary injury can occur. In the past there has been an expanded exercise conducted for the UNO ROTC, but it was planned out well in advance with signs being posted, local law enforcement and emergency services being made aware and people posted outside of buildings to notify those entering the area that a drill was taking place and not to be alarmed.
In addition to holding the active shooter training sessions, there are also plans in the works to create family assistance centers at UNO to help victims of an incident. In the case of a shooting on campus, these centers would act as rendezvous points for those escaping, so the police could collect any statements from witnesses. Transportation would be offered to those who may have left their car keys or money for the bus in the area where the shooting occurred, or if access to their vehicle was blocked off by the police or in a hot zone. Minor first aid would be offered to those whose injuries were not severe enough to warrant a hospital visit, and counselors would be on the scene to help people emotionally dealing with the aftermath of a violent shooting situation. These centers would be able to be set up in various locations around campus, so that if a shooting occurred, no matter where the shooting occurred there would be a center far away enough for people to safely gather.
Any faculty or student groups who want to educate themselves more about emergency preparedness in an active shooter situation can contact the UNO Department of Public Safety to arrange a one-hour presentation. Individuals can also visit the FEMA website at https://training.fema.gov/is/.