Should Universities Do More to Prepare Students, Staff for an Active Shooter Emergency?

9 mm handgun

What would you do if an active shooter entered your building?

University police departments across the country and West Virginia are encouraging their students and staff to answer that question by providing them training in the form of videos, which are provided by entities like the Department of Homeland Security and private companies. Marshall University, for example, rolled out an online video module this fall that students and employees can access to learn about how to survive an active shooter situation, and West Virginia University opened their video training, which is taught in a class setting and followed by a question and answer session, to the public. 

“It’s video clips tied in with some PowerPoint slides – that’s how we deliver a lot of our emergency management training,” said Tracy Smith, the director of Environmental Health and Safety at Marshall University. “That way we can reach large numbers of people pretty easily.” 

But one terrorism expert with the Ohio Department of Homeland Security thinks the nation is not doing enough to prepare civilians for an active shooter emergency. 

“You’re not engraining someone in having them watch a video. I pull people out of the audience,” said Lieutenant Joseph Hendry. “We barricade the doors in a classroom. I show them how to use countermeasures. I show them swarming techniques. I show them how to move. We are so behind the terrorists and active shooters in training and thought process. That’s why we keep losing so many people.”

Hendry says that the only way to be prepared is to drill repeatedly. But requiring drills is a matter of bureaucracy, and police departments throughout the country often copy each other’s policies for the sake of expediency. Fire drills and fire codes, after all, took 64 years to implement. By now, some active shooter training methods are outdated. The lockdown method, in which individuals hide under desks and turn off the light, was designed for a drive-by shooting at an outdoor campus in 1993. In shootings that occur indoors, Hendry says lockdown training is the reason why mass-shooting victims are often killed by execution-style shots – they are sitting ducks for the gunman. 

“There are states that require lockdown drills five times a year. So by the time someone comes to a university setting, they may have practiced sitting in the dark on the ground not moving 65 times,” he said. “That is an ingrained thought process in them. they will do that automatically – and at a stress level, you will default to the level of your training.” 

Police departments at Marshall, Shepherd and West Virginia universities use videos for training because they say physical training with their students and staff could be traumatic and impractical. Captain Danny Camden of West Virginia University Police says the videos are a good way to prompt audiences to seriously think about what they would do if confronted with an active shooter, and brings them one step closer to surviving an active shooter emergency. 

“If you’ve never watched a video, if you’ve never done anything and and never stopped to think about what if this happens, or that happens, you’re at a huge disadvantage. You could very easily find yourself just like the deer that jumps into the road and here comes a car at night head on. Should you jump left? Should the deer jump right?” he said. “Well, it doesn’t really matter if you jump left or jump right. Just don’t stand there too long.”