A critical element that tends to not exist in safety plans for colleges and universities concerns the inclusion of students in situational drills. In fact, many college and university personnel have little knowledge of the safety plan, or if one even exists. In order to prevent further casualties within postsecondary schools, it is imperative that each institution not only has an active shooter safety plan but also practices the plan regularly.
CRAFTING THE PLAN—ENSURING OPTIMAL SAFETY
Even with the most exhaustive planning efforts, an active shooter plan will not protect each individual on campus. The purpose of the plan is to minimize casualties. With these thoughts in mind, college and university administrators must face difficult questions.
1. Who will be part of the safety planning committee?
Administrators must provide the building block of the committee. Knowledge from faculty and personnel are also beneficial due to the fact that these individuals know interior and exterior areas of the campus better than most.
2. What are the roles of administrators and personnel?
Each administrator should have intimate knowledge of the plan. Faculty and personnel should have enough information to protect themselves and students. Since there have been cases of faculty on faculty shootings, some details of the safety plan should be reserved for administrators and safety plan committee members only.
3. What should we include in the safety plan?
Each plan should contain detailed maps of the college or university with room numbers, if applicable. This information should also be shared with local emergency responders, including campus police and security. Procedures for locking down classrooms and lecture halls are crucial. Students, faculty, and personnel should also be advised as to how the administration will maintain communication in the event of an active shooting.
4. How will the campus be “locked down?”
Since college and university campuses are typically large, this poses an immediate concern. However, students and personnel should be advised of their roles during an actual event. Students or personnel who choose to leave a building are opening their bodies to a large area outside of the structure.
CONDUCTING ACTIVE SHOOTER DRILLS—ENSURING PREPAREDNESS
Indisputably, the most problematic issue facing college and university administrators is the execution of drills for the safety plan. Students and faculty members are not on campus at the same time; therefore, drills must be spaced at different time intervals. If drills are not conducted on campus, there is no meaningful reason to craft an active shooter safety plan. Furthermore, all personnel and students will have no procedures to follow which will lead to more casualties and pandemonium.
Precisely how drills are to be conducted will be left to the administration and those chosen for the planning committee. Campus-wide messaging services are an excellent way to communicate information to students and personnel. In order to prevent chaos, the message will need to indicate that the activity is indeed a drill. As faculty members and students gain an understanding of their safest locations to shelter in place, the impulse to move into action during an act of violence will become instinctual.
Through the planning and implementation process, an important factor is establishing rapport with emergency personnel in the area. In fact, many of these individuals wish to be included in the planning stage of an active shooter safety plan. When the plan is complete, each emergency agency should have a copy on file in the event of an actual emergency. When drills are scheduled, it is imperative to notify first responders. This is to ensure that no false alarms are raised during the drill.
COST OF ENACTING THE PLAN
Many colleges and universities have original fixtures, such as classroom doors. Replacing all classroom doors with those that can be locked from inside the classroom is a much-needed repair for older colleges and universities. Furthermore, all classroom doors should have relatively small wire glass windows, which can easily be covered to prevent being seen by an active shooter. Emergency buzzers in classrooms and lecture halls are also a wise investment; however, the location should only be known to faculty and personnel in an effort to avoid false alarms. Lastly, ensuring that your campus police force and security officers are fully staffed and trained in handling active shooter situations is vital.
WE HAVE A PLAN—NOW WHAT?
Unfortunately, active shooter safety plans tend to be created, printed, placed in a binder, and filed away into oblivion. The safety plan, however, should be a living document. As we learn from future acts of violence on campuses, all safety plans should be updated immediately. Accordingly, new recommendations may also result from further knowledge gained.
After updating the safety plan, items pertinent to faculty, personnel, or students should be disseminated. Drills should also be performed when significant changes are made to the active shooter safety plan. Drills, as a whole, should be evaluated to determine perceived weaknesses and failures with protocol originally implemented in the initial safety plan. This allows for immediate changes to the safety plan and hopefully a decrease in the amount of casualties during an active shooter emergency.
is an eight-year veteran educator and a Doctor of Education in Leadership candidate at Creighton University. His research interests involve school violence prevention and trends involving instructional technology. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.