On April 20, 1999 the actions of two high school students in Colorado opened a dialogue across the nation on the safety of our communities. The massacre at Columbine High School created an eerie backdrop to the new millennium, at the time being the deadliest school shooting in US history with 13 casualties and 21 injured. For weeks, blame was cast at Marilyn Manson, the video game industry, and the parents while law enforcement came under fire for certain actions they took. We cannot know what drove the students to such lengths—we can only use what we learned to be more prepared in the future.
In response to Columbine and other shootings, the Secret Service and Department of Education created the Safe Schools Initiative which aimed “to identify information that could be obtainable, or ‘knowable,’ prior to an attack.” To do this researchers studied 37 targeted shooting incidents across the country to determine if assailants had notable similarities or predictable signs. The study found that while there is no specific profile for shooters, shootings were planned, usually known about by others in some capacity, and were preceded in most cases by behavior that caused concern.
In Columbine’s aftermath, many criticized the police and SWAT for a slow response as they surrounded the school, and law enforcement have also updated their procedures as a response.
The Immediate Action Rapid Deployment tactic has been adopted by many law enforcement agencies and trains officers to enter and engage the shooter. This strategy is meant to prevent any further harm as quickly as possible and assumes the shooter is there to kill, not take hostages.
With this in mind and memories of recent events much closer to home, how has Corvallis been preparing as a community for an active shooter situation? The clearest answer is communication. Both within the community and between law enforcement agencies and educational institutions, creating a common language and understanding is key to moving forward. A large part of this involves response protocols and training with the public.
Kevin Bogatin, Assistant Superintendent of the Corvallis School District and member of the Willamette Criminal Justice Council, explained that protocols from the iloveuguys Foundation have been adopted regionally by both law enforcement and non-law enforcement agencies in an effort to “…respond commonly across all these different organizations, in classrooms or through law enforcement, so we know what to expect and respond the same way.” Geared for the K-12 setting, iloveuguys protocol teaches instructors four simple actions to take given any major emergency: Lockout, Lockdown, Evacuate, and Shelter.
If possible staff should lock the threat out of the school. If a shooter is in the school, teachers lockdown the classrooms, locking doors and shutting off lights. “Research we have done on any kind of active shooter-school situation indicates no one is breaching a locked door. There have been instances they have gotten into the front doors but not a classroom door,” said Bogatin. If and when possible, staff should evacuate and seek shelter. The idea is by keeping it simple and organized, education on procedure and execution during an event should happen smoothly.
The Run, Hide, Fight protocol has also been adopted for higher education and business settings. Operating on the same principals of simplicity, Lieutenant Juda of the Oregon State Police detachment at OSU put it like this: “The mind kind of needs to revert back to some pretty simple steps. Run, Hide, Fight fits that bill.” It trains people to escape when possible, if you cannot escape, close doors, turn off lights and hide, and as a last resort fight for your life. But more than this, “It gives people the opportunity to talk about what that means for them and have that open discussion.” The take-home message is not to get up and punch the shooter in the face, but a way of thinking in an evolving highly stressful situation.
Run, Hide, Fight training is offered at OSU and through the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, but it is currently only by request. While plenty of videos and information exist on Run, Hide, Fight and can be found on the OSU and Linn-Benton Community College websites, there is greater value in learning it firsthand from a trained defender of the peace.
Run, Hide, Fight is offered as a presentation where officers show videos and discuss with participants in detail the finer points of survival. “It’s pretty simple, and I think that’s what the federal government was trying to do for people,” said Juda. The Corvallis School System opts to drill their students twice a year on lockdowns and twice a year on lockouts while also doing fire drills once a month so students understand that there is a threat in the building and how to move. However, “we do not do active shooter training with kids,” said Bogatin.
Some training procedures, such as the ALICE training, include shooters with fake guns and are designed to leave a more realistic impression. “We have chosen that that is not necessary and we have also seen schools where that has created a lot of trauma for the students and staff,” said Bogatin. OSU graduate student Anna Ormiston recounted listening to real 911 calls before having her office assaulted by a false gunman. The word traumatic was uttered multiple times, but in the end the same idea of locking down and fighting as a last resort was the main point.
Another method of communication adopted by the school systems and law enforcement are threat assessment teams. These are multidisciplinary teams made up of law enforcement, instructors, mental health workers, and trained members of the community on campus and in town that basically keep their eyes peeled. Juda explained that “as a threat assessment team I think we have had some very successful impacts on situations that have come across our radar in the last few years.” Based on Secret Service practices, threat assessment teams monitor and evaluate at-risk individuals, report suspicious behavior, and help triage a response.
This does not mean Jimmy made a bomb threat so the police arrested him. Kevin Bogatin described their threat assessment process as a multistep process, similar to a checklist, of determining how credible the threat is, do they have access to weapons, and is there a theme of this behavior. Actions deemed appropriate are chosen, whether it be counseling, mental health checks, or reprimands from an employer. “That’s the key to stopping active shooters, is getting ahead of it and recognizing the situations before they get to that point,” said Juda.
But what kind of response can we expect from law enforcement in a shooting event? Once a call has been made, the first officers are expected to arrive on the scene within minutes. “So you have three law enforcement agencies within Benton County all operating on the same radio frequency, so they are going to hear the call when we hear the call,” said Lieutenant Cord Wood of the Corvallis Police Department. These are the Corvallis PD, Philomath PD, and the Benton County Sheriff’s Office with the Oregon State Police at OSU able to monitor the frequency as well. According to Wood, “We can have a pretty large size response from multiple agencies relatively quickly.”
To add to this, Benton County has mutual aid agreements with neighboring counties. Captain Greg Ridler of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office explained that Polk County, Linn County, and Lane County agencies, any group within a 20- to 25-mile radius of an event, will respond. The Sheriff’s Office trains with other law enforcement agencies within the area so all can have a coordinated response.
Also, a coordinated response is more than being on the same page, it is a two-step process of removing the threat and assessing the situation as quickly and efficiently as possible. Step 1 is the immediate response. This involves arriving on the scene and forming a quick response team. Quick response teams are “two to three law enforcements that are going to actively look for the shooter or shooters and end the immediate violence.” Step 2 is the greater response and involves securing perimeters and forming investigatory teams to locate victims or other suspects.
For this reason Loss Prevention Coordinator Bruce Thompson at Linn-Benton Community College adamantly discourages concealed carry among students on campus. “It isn’t the cop on the beat that’s just answering, it’s hunter killer teams, they see a gun, they are going to terminate the threat—you are not going to have a moment to explain your actions.” Having personally locked down the campus twice, Thompson has seen how quickly law enforcement can move around the school. As a former firearms instructor for law enforcement and private organizations, Thompson attests that there is not significant training for CCW holders and that they may be endangering themselves by not following the protocol, Run, Hide, Fight.
So are we well prepared as a community for an active shooter situation? Ridler put it like this: “These type of events I don’t think you can be 100 percent prepared for, but I think the community is geared towards learning and preparing.” The Safe Schools Initiative ultimately concluded that relying on a response from law enforcement was not a good policy and that actively preventing a shooting before it happens is most effective. It also established the need for simple core responses among targets while laying the groundwork for quicker engagements by law enforcement.
When asked what they would like to see happen in the community to be better prepared, Ridler, Thompson, Juda, Wood, and Bogatin all said the same thing: more people receiving active shooter training. The more we work towards a common language and understanding, the more prepared we will be for any emergency situation.
Run, Hide, Fight videos are ubiquitous online, as are accounts of active shooter situations, and many experts suggest that checking these out and considering how you would respond can be helpful, even if you cannot ever be entirely prepared. And of course, there is the standard saw, if you see something, say something—Albany High School student Grant Acord was arrested in 2013 with functional bombs and plans for an assault at his school, hopes are that he is getting the help he needs.
Now, if you’re looking for an upbeat spin about all this, the FBI says you are more likely to be hit by lightning than an active shooter, so there’s that.