Active shooter training raises awareness for faculty, students
Published: Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014 12:01
It happened at Virginia Tech. It happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It happened in University of Nebraska at Omaha’s backyard in Von Maur at the Westroads Mall:
Mass murders brought on by an active shooter.
“It can happen anywhere,”said Tyler Davis, UNO Environmental Health and Safety Officer, at an active shooter training course on Oct. 29 at the Eppley Administration Building.
Davis doesn’t mean to frighten anyone, but he is certainly trying to get people more aware and prepared in the untimely event of a killing spree, on campus or elsewhere.
A collection of 20 students, staff, and faculty attended the session and more the next day in a similar session at Mammel Hall. Teamed up with Sergeant Robert Wondra of the Omaha Police Department and Campus Security Manager Paul Kosel, the group has trained over 4000 people throughout the university over the past few years. The classes are free and open to anyone on campus or the general public.
The course teaches the participants what to expect during and after an event where an active shooter is on the loose and consequently detained or killed. Understanding the patterns and mindset of the shooter; decisions to make regarding hiding, running or fighting; and police procedure during and after the event were the main points of the presentation.
“It’s very important to be able to identify what your needs are going to be in a situation like this,” Davis said. “Developing a strategy is key to keeping you and your coworkers safe during an [active shooter] situation.”
The reason it’s so important to have a strategy is because of time. Davis reported that, on average, active shooter scenarios last six to eight minutes. He said the shooter goes into these situations knowing the police will eventually arrive and it will probably end badly, so their main objective is to kill as many people as they can before being detained, killed or detained by law enforcement.
Because of this, Davis stressed what he called “See Something, Say Something,” which is the idea of alerting authorities, on campus or elsewhere, if suspicious activity is detected.
“A situation can escalate quickly, so it’s important to contact [authorities] before something happens,” Davis said. “Even if it turns out to be nothing, we’re at least making sure there is no threat.”
Wondra said people need to be prepared to respond in a timely manner, both in getting to a safe spot and alerting authorities.
“Speed is of the essence in these scenarios,” Wondra said. “If we can get the word out fast, that’s how we keep people alive.”
He also said that while the actual killing during an event is short, the situation is far from over, for both police and victims, after the active shooter is neutralized.
“Six to eight minutes in an event like this feels like an eternity,” Wondra said. “But you need to understand that this is a long-term event. It takes hours of clearing the area for threats, tending to the wounded and interviewing witnesses before the scene will be through.”
Wondra shouted commands at the class attendees, giving them an idea of how the police will be conducting themselves while looking for an active shooter. He warned them that they could have guns pointed at them or even be handcuffed, depending on the situation. He said it’s all for the safety of the police and potential victims. Until the threat is eliminated, they have to be careful, as suspects can sometimes try to blend in with the crowd to escape. Again, he repeated, it’s only for public safety, so obeying commands from law enforcement is important.
“You need to be mentally- and physically-prepared to endure, because it is a long process for law enforcement and the people involved.”
Not all office spaces or classrooms are the same, so coming up with emergency strategies takes creativity and unique planning. To provide assistance and ideas others may not think of, Davis and company can perform site checks upon request. The group will identify entry and exit points, what kind of doors and windows the space has and items that can be used as impromptu barricades, weapons and more.
At UNO, each office area or classroom has a red emergency flipchart attached to the wall near the main entry point. Each flipchart has safety guidelines and instructions for several types of emergency drills or situations in that particular room or building.
Davis and company hope that this training will help people learn to react rather than freeze up in an event, for the safety of themselves and others.
Dr. Bob Garrison, a biology instructor at UNO, has attended several similar training sessions over the years; and he implements what he learns in these campus sessions into classes he also teaches.
“It’s necessary to have training because under pressure, you won’t be able to think clearly,” Garrison said. “You have to be able to react, and it almost has to be reflexive. It isn’t something you have to time sit and think about.”
Garrison says that while one session won’t make you completely prepared, getting the thought in your head is imperative to understanding active killer situations.
“And the only way to reach that point is through repetitive training,” Garrison said. “This at least gets people thinking about it.”