October 18, 2015
Assistant Director – Risk and Facilities Management
Purdue University, Division of Recreational Sports
Active Shooter: two of the most terrifying words to appear on a campus alert notification. In the blink of an eye, all the components that make campus recreation special and exciting become liabilities to personal safety: the large number of guests participating in many different activities, the transient nature of student staff, and the variety of indoor and outdoor locations with open access to all. Paired with the randomness, confusion, and fear that shootings instill in everyone, the ability to maintain safety for staff and participants is a great challenge. Preparing staff is challenging, but we can give them the skills to protect themselves by identifying ways of collecting details about the situations, focusing on a flexible plan and pairing it with experiential training.
Preparedness for an active shooter is unique compared to other incidents campuses plan for. Fire alarm – evacuate to outside; tornado warning – shelter in a pre-designated place; life-threatening injury – call EMS. In a shooting however, those specific plans may inadvertently place an individual directly in harm’s way. Situational awareness is the ability to identify and consider all the details surrounding the incident, and then decide upon a response plan that effectively protects against those unique conditions. Most people find themselves subconsciously considering them in emergencies e.g. when escaping a building on fire, people will avoid exit paths that are filled with smoke or indicate the fire is within reach. The challenge is that information surrounding a shooter may not be as obvious or as accessible as most other situations are.
Here are some things to consider as you are building the full picture:
• Information sources: when and how information is accessible is critical. Be careful with media, both news and social; don’t be misled by uncorroborated sources. Campus alert systems are the best source for accurate information, ensured to be updated by law enforcement/campus officials. These systems utilize a multi-layered approach to distributing information such as text messages, Twitter accounts, pop-up desk alerts, outdoor sirens, emails, etc. Most systems allow for community members to access this information; consider alerting non-University-affiliated members to follow the system. The more people that have access to information, the less confusion there is during an emergency.
• Types of Shootings: A shooting typically falls into one of two categories: active or targeted incident. An Active Shooter is an individual who is actively in pursuit of harming as many people as possible; a targeted incident involves a shooter pursuing a specific individual and may not pose a danger to the masses. This clarification may not be available immediately, but may offer guidance in choosing the best course of action.
• Incident Location: Response plans should be influenced by the incident site – an incident inside the walls of the Rec center generates a different response than that of a situation on the other side of campus or even right next door. A challenge for professional staff is knowing where buildings or areas are located on campus, in relation to recreational facilities. Students tend to be more familiar with campus, so lean on them for assistance. This may prove to be more efficient than searching for a campus map, especially when in an open, exposed area.
An Emergency Action Plan for an active shooter looks vastly different than other emergencies that programs and facilities plan for. The challenge is balancing structured procedures with adaptable considerations for the many different factors a situation can present. Run-Hide-Fight is a plan used nationally to empower people, and can be easily applied to recreation and wellness.
• Run: Put as much distance between yourself and the shooter; leave your belongings and use the nearest available exits to get away from the area. If close to a parking lot, drive away from campus.
• Hide: Find an inconspicuous, lockable place to shelter; turn off lights and sounds and be sure to get out of view of windows. If the space does not lock from the inside, find ways of barricading the door to prevent access. Consider storage units, custodial closets and offices to take shelter.
• Fight: Use equipment, supplies and the power of a group to try to separate the shooter from the weapon.
Rec Sport’s greatest challenge is the number of people in our facility; unfortunately, the situation may be so urgent that we don’t have time for an announcement or corralling people to safety. When taking one of the actions above, do your best to pull others with you; don’t let them slow you down, but extend the opportunity for their safety as well. There are some areas, such as youth programs, aquatics, climbing walls, and challenge courses that pose a greater challenge due their high-risk environments and personal constraints. Act quickly, keep your head up, and work together to get to a safe place. Use the resources around you for protection.
Finally, consider creating a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP). Returning to business and normal operations can be difficult if employees are spread across campus and facilities have been abandoned. A COOP provides structure that allows you to return to normal operating procedures quickly. The next edition of this Newsletter will explore development of a COOP development, and the benefits of planning for after the emergency.
A term often heard in these situations is lockdown. Primarily used in the K-12 school system, it can be very challenging to execute on a college campus. An elementary or secondary school is often structured with buildings in close proximity of each other and usually shares one communication source, such as a public announcer. Unfortunately, a college campus is designed more like a small city; it contains a variety of indoor/outdoor locations that are managed independently of each other. Without an organizational standard, the decision for lockdown falls on each of the building managers. Some things to consider before adding it to an Emergency Action Plan:
• What does it take to lock the doors? Does someone have to use a key? Are they electronic controls accessible from a safe location?
• Will you let people looking for shelter into the facility? Will you expect staff to monitor the doors, possibly putting them in direct danger?
• What does the campus emergency preparedness team/local law enforcement recommend?
Locking doors prevents people, such as the shooter from entering; it also limits access to people who are looking for shelter.
Just as the details surrounding the incident are essential for determining a good strategy, the sticks and bricks of a facility will determine the effectiveness of the chosen strategy. Hiding seems like an obvious answer, but on a basketball court with locked storage closets, hiding becomes significantly challenging and not necessarily the best option. Successful preparedness trainings consist of two components: learning the plan and practicing the plan in an environment staff will regularly be in. When it comes to teaching staff the Emergency Action Plan for Active Shooter, consider leaning on local law enforcement to lead the training. Their presence will both validate the plan and reassure staff in their abilities, especially as they discuss an uncomfortable, sometimes emotional, topic. The City of Houston, Texas developed a short, educational video that can be used in training; Run, Hide, Fight: Surviving an Active Shooter Event depicts a scenario in an office building and shows ordinary people taking action for their personal safety. It reviews each option and empowers staff to consider their surroundings and make a decision that is best for them.
The next element of training is giving staff the opportunity to practice those procedures in areas they regularly work. Take Intramural referees to outdoor fields, Group Exercise instructors to a fitness studio, Lifeguards to a deck chair, Climbing Wall Attendants to the climbing wall, etc. Challenge them to consider an active shooter on campus and have them walk through their options: Run-Hide-Fight. Change the scenario to a shooter in their immediate area and have them walk through their options again. Do they change based on the modified situation? Move to another location they work in and go through the exercise again. Does the change in venue provide a new set of resources they can use to protect themselves? Provide new details and information that challenges them to look at the whole picture so they can be empowered to make a decision that will protect them.
An active shooter is a terrifying situation that no one is ever fully prepared for. It could happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone. There are no patterns or rules the shooter follows; as a result it is impossible to have a firm plan in place. People who know their options and think through how they would react in advance are more likely to survive. When there was a shooting at Purdue University, our students were recognized for their leadership in emergency response. When others panicked or showed uncertainty in classrooms, labs, and residence halls, our Rec Sports Staff relied on their training and stepped into action. It may never happen here again, but if it does, we know our students are ready to make a decision that gives them their best chance of surviving such an attack.