Shooting for Safety

President Waded Cruzado recently organized a public forum in response to Roseburg, Oregon’s Umpqua Community College shooting. In this forum, the Montana State Police Department provided a short video, titled “Run, Hide, Fight,” in which a system of action was detailed for victims of a shooting to follow. The system’s process is structured around three responsive actions in a prioritized order: running away from the situation, hiding from the shooter and fighting the shooter.

While it is important to establish a plan to respond to any harmful event, the “run, hide, fight” system may not be an effective approach for a campus setting. The video portrayed a shooting scenario within an office building, where system may be most effective. With a small number of people to evacuate, running may provide a good opportunity for survival. However, when applying an office-setting evacuation and survival plan to a university, one must compare the outcomes. Having an organization with a dozen or so employees per floor evacuate is more of a pragmatic approach than having a multitude of classrooms with 40 to 60 students apiece chaotically flood hallways.

Furthermore, our single doorways are not models of rapid egress. Imagine attempting to rapidly evacuate a lecture hall of some two hundred or more students. Now, imagine the lecture group following the run component’s “encourage others to flee with you” rule. Orderly evacuation is not easily imaginable when crowds of students are shouting at each other to escape through limited few exits. When students leave a classroom, they are leaving behind a defensive position. They leave an area of safety to run into potential killzones, which may be the very door from which they are attempting to escape. By leaving a classroom that could easily be secured, students would be bringing themselves as victims to the shooter rather than forcing the shooter to look for potential victims. As response time by the MSU Police Department should be relatively quick, the immediate goal would be to have the shooter spend as much time as possible struggling to find or access victims. Besides, a bottleneck, like a doorway, could just as well be deemed a target for a shooter. A mass of students pushing each other out a door one by one into the shooter’s sights would be like penguins pushing each other into orca infested waters.

A more effective methodology would be the “run, hide, fight” system without the run. This would involve hiding and securing where you most likely already are: a classroom. Sound familiar? That may be because it is a practice most of us have already experienced. At my highschool, it was referred to as a lockdown. This ensures there is no disorderly exodus. The video suggests that once the occupants of the building being attacked have escaped, they should find a place to hide outside. There are few outdoor locations that can provide refuge to several dozen students. Add to that the possibility of the shooter targeting students from a high vantage point on campus and the situation becomes catastrophic. If the end goal is to hide, it might as well be within the classroom.

In addition to hiding, students and staff can prepare the fight aspect of the system while securing the classrooms. According to “Run, Hide, Fight,” everyone should arm themselves in preparation to fight the shooter should the shooter come within the vicinity of those hiding. That is a great feature to the system, especially for a college campus scenario. Classrooms, backpacks, pockets, any number of personal effects or university property could be present and available to use as a means of defense. Should a shooter manage to get into a secured classroom, they would find themselves confronted with dozens of armed students.

A lockdown and fight system should be our campus policy. All university staff should be trained to take control and manage a campus-wide lockdown. Every medium available should be used to make the situation known. In the event of a campus shooting, the MSU Alert system would notify staff and students. Additionally, there should be another public address system, such as loudspeakers, that would warn students of a shooting scenario. At that point, classrooms should be secured by their occupants. Doors would be locked and barricaded and students should contact emergency services, all under the guidance of the classroom’s professor or similar university staff. Students outside of classrooms should seek refuge wherever possible. Facilities like the Strand Union Building should be controlled by trained university staff.

As there are students who have never participated in a lockdown procedure, there should be drills conducted each semester. Lockdown drills would not only provide insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the procedure but would also familiarize all the participants of the system with its operation. Any aspect of a plan can be well memorized but without rehearsal, applying a concept in a life-threatening situation is not entirely feasible. Muscle memory is a safer bet over knowledge when bullets start flying. With a student body size larger than 15,000, there should be no reason to tell everyone to run.