UCF, Valencia talk active-shooter protocols on campus
The shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon marks the 994th mass gun attack in the United States within the last three years, with almost 300 of these attacks having taken place in 2015 alone. That adds up to nearly one mass shooting every day.
Additionally, according to USA Today, the shooting at UCC marked the fourth shooting at a U.S. college campus since August. In search of what to do in the case of an active shooter on campus, UCC public information officer Anne Marie Levis said, “I know that there are a ton of other schools who may be able to give you advice. That is both the good and bad news.”
One of UCF’s biggest and most recent encounters with a gun attack was the March 18, 2013 incident involving then-UCF student James Oliver Seevakumaran, who planned to go on a mass shooting spree in Tower 1 — an on-campus residence hall — before his plan was foiled by his roommate. Seevakumaran committed suicide when his rifle jammed.
In an after-action review, it was determined that the university followed correct and effective procedures. The event created deeper relationships with law-enforcement agencies and made UCF realize it was prepared for the aftermath of such an event, according to the review.
“Safety is a priority for UCF, and we know from firsthand experience that mass shootings can happen anywhere,” said UCF Police spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin.
Gilmartin added that “dedicated, proactive policing is one way to avert those types of incidents,” and UCF Police officers patrol campus 24/7, including on weekends and holidays. Officers also train for such active-shooter situations.
Political science professor Mark Logas teaches part time at UCF and part time at Valencia College. At Valencia, employees are required to take a seminar that shares real-life experiences and also educates classroom and non-classroom employees on how to react to an active threat or shooter on campus.
“I agree with Dr. Ben Carson on this issue. First and foremost, neither of us is criticizing the actions of the victims in Oregon,” Logas said. “If you listen to Dr. Carson’s full soundbite, he clearly starts it off by stating that he is not commenting on the people involved in Oregon and neither am I in this article. Paraphrasing, Dr. Carson stated that he would not sit around and wait for a shooter to ask questions and that he would encourage everyone to rush the shooter.
“That has always been my philosophy because a shooter cannot accurately fire when books, erasers, pencils, pens, purses and book bags are coming [in] his/her direction.”
Valencia currently has an emergency protocol, SHelter In Place, or SHIP, which is “a short-term safety procedure that will help students and staff by taking shelter inside the school,” its website states. This protocol involves doing “whatever it takes” to survive when your life is on the line.
“The natural reflex is to repel what is heading your way. That redirects the shooter’s precision line of fire. Rushing the shooter may cause him/her to retreat or to fire at the ground or in the air,” Logas said. “Sadly, it may also cause him/her to shoot a student or faculty member.
“In the end, you have to measure how many students could die in an active-shooter scenario where the shooter is calling the shots, versus a scenario where the tables have turned and the shooter is now on the defensive. I would prefer the latter scenario.”
Paul Rooney, assistant vice president for safety and security at Valencia, said the college is looking to move away from its SHIP policy, however.
“We have just completed a mandatory two-hour training with all faculty and staff on response to active threats,” Rooney said. “We used to call it active-shooting [training], but active threats encompass so much more. … It goes over everything from being aware of surroundings to having a plan of action.”
Rooney said Valencia will go by the “run, hide, fight” concept, which is being taught around the nation. He added that having a plan of action is half the battle.
“The very last resort would be to fight if the suspect was entering the room, and having a plan with your teammates and throw the fire extinguisher, desk, whatever at him,” Rooney said. “You see yourself winning, you see yourself surviving, you see yourself going through that rehearsal you already have in your mind. That’s the leading theme being taught by a lot of the different law enforcement.”
The course of action that Virginia Tech, the site of a previous campus active shooter attack, has instituted is the nationally accredited law-enforcement response created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Its IS-907 Active Shooter online course gives step-by-step procedures on what to do in the case of an active shooter.
The course states that the action of incapacitating the shooter is seen as “an absolute last resort,” according to the student manual. When deciding to take this course of action, the manual says to “act as aggressively as possible. Improvise weapons and throw items. Yell. And most importantly, commit to your actions.”
With many Florida college campuses currently labeled as gun-free zones, improvising weapons may be one of the only options available.
At UCF, current policies only allow those with proper permits to store their guns inside a locked vehicle on campus. At Valencia, regardless of whether a person over the age of 18 has a permit, guns may only be stowed securely inside a vehicle.
“Gun-free zones are open target practice on innocence, and there must be ways to counter an attack without the protection of the Second Amendment on the side of the innocent. Unfortunately, gun-free zones do not offer easy solutions, just as the heroes on United Flight 93 faced on 9/11,” Logas said. “The passengers took the similar action that I’m suggesting instead of sitting back and waiting for their plane to hit the White House or the Capitol.
“While their lives were not saved, they protected our national landmarks and potentially saved the lives of thousands of people.”
Gilmartin said UCF also fosters a constant dialogue about safety awareness and crime prevention.
“UCF PD and Emergency Management team up for the Shots Fired class, which is taught to students, faculty and staff throughout the year,” she said. “The goal is twofold: Educate attendees about the UCF Alert system and how it is used during an emergency, and provide them with the knowledge and tools critical for making decisions in an emergency scenario.”
Danielle Hendrix is a News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @ByDaniHendrix or email her at DanielleH@centralfloridafuture.com.
Brianna Ordenes is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.