10501 FGCU Blvd S., Fort Myers, FL
Should a gunman target Florida Gulf Coast University, more than 200 faculty and staff know how to respond.
“The bottom line is not to be paranoid, but prepared,” said Steven Engle a crime prevention specialist with the FGCU campus police department, who led a session on active shooter safety for 25 people at the Student Union on Wednesday.
The session was one of several held since March with plans to include students in the future. The training came just days after a scare at Virginia Tech where a gunman was reported on campus.
Engle showed a video called “Shots Fired on Campus: When Lightning Strikes,” presented by the Center for Personal Protection & Safety. The video emphasized awareness and preparation as the keys to survival in an on-campus shooting.
The video gave three options when a gunman is spotted: get out of harm’s way, hide to avoid detection, or take out the shooter. A survival mentality is necessary in any course of action.
“That’s what you have to think: ‘I’m not going to be a victim,’” Engle said.
Getting out may involve running from a building or breaking windows to escape a room. If escape seems more dangerous, those in danger can hide by locking themselves in a room, shutting off the lights and quietly discussing a plan of action with others.
Taking out the shooter by throwing books or backpacks as a distraction is often a last resort, but can prove effective.
Engle cited a December 2010 case in which a woman swung her purse at a gunman who interrupted a school board meeting in Panama City, stunning him for a moment before a security guard fired at him. The shooter committed suicide but no one else was harmed.
Engle echoed the video’s message to take action rather than wait for law enforcement to arrive.
“Columbine showed us that while waiting for these specialized teams, too much can happen to too many good people,” he said. “Police response time is measured in minutes, and the time it takes a shooter to get from one place to another is measured in seconds.”
FGCU has a campus alert system that uses email and text messaging to alert users of threats to safety. Engle also talked about ways to report unusual behavior from students, faculty or staff anonymously or confidentially through the Dean of Students or the Office of Student Conduct.
A final, optional session for FGCU faculty and staff will be held next Wednesday.
Last week’s scare at Virginia Tech involving a report of a man carrying a pistol on campus was a reminder of the 2007 shootings that left 33 dead, including the gunman. That killing, along with the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado in 1999 changed the way law enforcement reacts to active shooters in school settings, Engle said.
Debora Haring, assistant director for Graduate Studies, attended Wednesday’s FGCU session because she said she feels responsible for the safety of students on campus.
“We recruit them, we admit them,” she said. “Anything we can learn to keep people safe.”
Ave Maria University has trained faculty, staff and students in emergency procedures for the last three years. Thomas Minick, director of campus security, said the most important component is prevention.
“The common denominator in these massacres has been that the individuals involved are students themselves who live within the community and should have been reported and removed from the system,” he said.
Ave Maria encourages students to report unusual conduct and uses an emergency alert system called AMU Alerts to send text messages in the event of an active campus shooter as well as other crime or weather related emergencies.
Rick Parfitt, director of public safety and chief of campus police at Edison State College, agreed that prevention is key.
“We have a behavioral intervention team that meets on behavior brought to the attention of the team by faculty staff and other students, concerning behavior that would warrant somebody looking into it,” Parfitt said.
A separate committee meets when a student’s admission is in question regarding past criminal charges or offenses, he said.
“This goes back to what all of the research has shown since the early days of school shootings, that we need to identify these folks before they get here,” Parfitt said. “That’s our best preventative measure.”