In the age of mass shootings, what does it mean to protect a college campus?

'We don't need more metal detectors, we need more kid detectors'

Emily Hatton, Staff WriterEmily Hatton, staff writer

College campuses aren't penitentiaries. They aren't even high schools, where you can direct visitors to the front office for a guest pass and keep entrances locked. They're open, they're large, and they're vulnerable.

So how can administrators protect students, faculty, staff—and themselves—from attack?

There were 23 campus shootings from the start of the year to October 9 alone. A 2013 FBI study found that of the 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013, the 39 that took place at schools had some of the highest casualty counts. 

Malcom Gladwell argues we've passed a "threshold": More mass shootings are happening now and many more probably will in the future.

“You can make a secure environment with checkpoints everywhere, but you know what we call places that do that? Prisons.”

The most recent recommendations from the FBI and Department of Education ask students and staff not only to "shelter in place" but also to respond to changing situations and take an active role in protecting themselves.

Following the schoolhouse shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, this "Run, Hide, Fight" approach emerged as the most widespread tactic. The Department of Homeland Security uses different language in its recommendations but follows the same plan:

Run: If possible, evacuate the premise.

Hide: If evacuation is impossible, hide and barricade yourself.

Fight: Only when your life is immediate danger, commit to your actions, improvise weapons, and fight the shooter.

Training the community

Just one week before the Umpqua Community College attack, Ohio State University's (OSU) Office of Administration and Planning published a training video on how to proceed with Run, Hide, Fight during an active shooter situation.

For years, OSU police taught students groups and faculty the practice, but the video provides scale—anyone can watch it. Even other universities have asked to share it with their respective campuses and to collaborate.

But a survey by Campus Safety Magazine found that just over 25% of respondents have not held any active shooter drills or exercises on campus.

Prevention before reaction

"You can make a secure environment with checkpoints everywhere, but you know what we call places that do that? Prisons," William Taylor, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, recently told the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to training staff for violence situations, many colleges and K-12 school systems are working to identify possible threats before they take place.

Campus safety collaborative 'a living legacy' of Virginia Tech victims

"As human beings we're reluctant to believe someone we know can do something as heinous as a mass killing," Steven Healy, chairman of the National Center for Campus Public Safety, told the Los Angeles Times. But as such events continue to happen, "I think we're getting to the point now where people are becoming less reluctant."

That opens the door for more "prevention" strategies, such as an intervention team at Humboldt State University that meets weekly to discuss students exhibiting troubling behaviors. Other institutions scan social media for potential threats. Some schools even contract companies to run algorithms and analyze where threats may pop up.

Since Umpqua, such Internet threats put colleges and universities in Canada and the Philadelphia area on alert.

"We don't need more metal detectors, we need more kid detectors," Lauren Bear, director of an Arizona K-12 student safety and services program, told EdSource. "We need to be more mindful when we see something out of the ordinary in kids."

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.


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