May 12, 2011


Christopher Tapfer
Emergency Management Coordinator
Washington State University

Since the tragedy at Virginia Tech and the fatal shootings at Northern Illinois University, the issue of an active shooter on campus has driven much discussion, many changes and considerable concern at colleges and universities throughout North America. While statistics will still indicate that shootings on a college campus are exceedingly rare, no college administrator will want to have to explain why their campus was not prepared for such an occurrence.

In the months following Virginia Tech, hundreds of reports and analyses of the tragedy were released. The result has been a number of changes at college campuses everywhere. These changes have ranged from the acquisition of new locks on buildings, classrooms and meeting areas; sirens and public address systems; text messaging or other communication systems to allow direct contact with students, faculty and staff and all manner of new communications tools that will increase the ability to provide warning and notification capability. Other changes include educational programs with training for students, faculty and staff on what to do and how to react if a shooter appears and the creation of threat assessment teams that can react to and address the issues the institution faces with troubled or problem causing students, faculty and staff and systems created that encourage the campus community to report troubled individuals so they can be reached with the help they need before a tragedy occurs. All these changes have the potential to make a difference and time will tell to see if they will have an impact on making college campuses a safer place to be.

For those in Campus Recreation, beyond the obvious aspects associated with being part of the campus and subject to the same issues the rest of the campus is subject to, what special concerns need to be considered? So far, recreational activities have not been specifically targeted by campus shooters. This doesn’t mean the potential doesn’t exist. Activities that bring a lot of people together in a recreation facility could be an attractive target for a campus shooter. It is important that recreation professionals be aware of the issues and develops the appropriate plans and preparations to enhance safety for their facilties.

This can take many forms. First, before taking any steps, work with your campus security personnel (commissioned Police, professional security force, local Police or whoever provides these services to your campus) to do a safety/security audit to determine the issues you may have. Physical improvements could include more controlled access points to enter facilities; monitored security cameras; checking of bags/packs brought into facilities; metal detectors at access points; and even security personnel on site during operational hours. A key element of your preparations will be to train your employees to be alert and to watch for potential problems and problem people. Then, having quick and easily implemented methods to communicate with other staff to activate response procedures, such as a security lockdown, is critical in an emergency. The ability to communicate with activity participants in recreation facilities to provide warning of a problem and then directions on what to do to provide for their safety and security will also be necessary.

What other role can Campus Recreation have in improving the safety of the institution? Many recreation programs have Wellness Programs with educational components. Use your expertise in this area to ally with your Student Affairs Office and the campus Police/Security personnel to provide campus violence awareness and prevention programs. New awareness DVD’s such as Shots Fired On Campus and Shots Fired–When Lightning Strikes produced by the Center for Personal Protection and Safety in Spokane, Washington can be acquired and used on your campus for training and to generate discussions. Whether you use these DVD’s or not, It is recommended to provide adequate perspective and the opportunity for discussion on the issues of campus safety and security, these programs should be presented by trained personnel and have Police/Security participating in the discussions. Additional activities could be offering instruction in personal safety (such as RAD or something similar) encouraging people to take an active role in their own safety. Additionally, and in cooperation with other campus units including Campus Threat Assessment Teams, organize programs and presentations on improving the safety of the campus environment and helping those who are troubled and need help, get the help they need.

Ultimately, other units within a college will have the responsibility of improving the safety and security of the institution in relation to the potential for a campus shooting incident. Whether it is to focus on enhancing the safety and security of the students, faculty and staff in recreation facilities through various physical improvements and increased security measures or by becoming involved in training and awareness programs to make sure campus community members have the knowledge and skills needed to protect themselves, a Campus Recreation program can still have a significant role in making a college campus a safer place to be for all.

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