By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Pittsburg State University held the first of four training sessions Tuesday to prepare for a potential hostile intruder on campus.
Each session is designed for members of the campus community as a one-hour overview of the safest ways to respond to a hostile intruder and what actions law enforcement would take when responding.
But the presenters, university emergency managers Steve Erwin and Mike McCracken, told attendees that it is also important to focus on indicators of potential workplace violence and on the university’s current efforts in threat assessment and intervention.
Erwin and McCracken serve on a multidisciplinary team that developed a set of workplace violence indicators with which to assess a level of threat when incidents are reported on campus.
“In my opinion, the most important thing we can do is look for these things ahead of time, report them, identify the threat and the risk before something bad happens,” McCracken said.
The team also has developed behavioral interventions in case someone on campus is considered a potential threat to himself or others.
“The important piece, one of the takeaways we want to have for today ... is how we as faculty, staff and students — members of the campus community — can make a difference in terms of prevention and being able to perhaps successfully intervene and prevent something before it happens,” said Erwin, who heads up campus life and auxiliary services.
He noted that nearly 18 million college students are on 4,400 campuses daily, “so the likelihood of these things happening are infinitesimal,” but statistics do show that campus shootings are happening more frequently than in previous decades.
There were at least 10 shootings on college campuses in the four years after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 in which 32 students were killed and 17 were wounded. In 2012, there were at least five shootings on or steps away from a college campus. At least three such shootings were reported fewer than three weeks into 2013.
President Barack Obama’s effort to curb school shootings in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut includes a directive calling for “model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.”
McCracken advised those in attendance to weigh their options in advance of a potential shooting on campus, from picking an escape route to choosing hiding places to considering how they might fight back.
“Think about it ahead of time,” he said. “It’s easier to plan ahead than to do it in the stress of the moment.”
Campus police have practiced intruder response at the university and have brought in tactical experts from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department, McCracken said, to familiarize them with building layouts.
On March 1, a new emergency alert system is set to be deployed on campus that will be more robust than the current system. The current system, which sends text alerts to cellphones, is optional. The new system will automatically enroll everyone on campus using email accounts, home phone numbers and office phones if they have them. Users will have the option of whether to receive messages via cellphones. The system also will allow administrators to send emergency alerts to all computer screens on campus.
Associate professor Harry Humphries called the session “a good start.”
But student Austin Leake, who is vice president of Gorillas for Concealed Carry, said he saw it a different way.
“I hope it opened people’s eyes to see we’re sitting ducks for the two to three minutes it takes for police to respond during an active shooting scenario,” he said.
ADDITIONAL ONE-HOUR SESSIONS will be held at 2:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25, in Overman Student Center; at noon Wednesday, March 6, in Room 109 of Grubbs Hall; and at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 14, in the student center. All sessions are open to faculty, staff and students.