By Janeece Woodson, Staff Writer
Knowing what to do in a situation where adrenaline is pumping can save lives. The University of Missouri—St. Louis Campus Police are striving to make sure students know how to respond to emergencies, particularly in the instance of a shooter on campus. However, staying aware and prepared is not the same as anticipating such an event will happen. In fact, the majority of mass shootings occur at businesses, whereas only 7.5 percent of mass shootings take place on college campuses. The goal of Campus Safety is not to frighten, but rather to inform students of the options available to them if a shooting were ever to take place.
“It’s not about panic, it’s just one of those things you need to know,” said Lieutenant Dan Freet of the UMSL Police Department. “It’s important to keep this in perspective.” He encourages students not to live in fear, but to mentally prepare for a situation involving an armed person on campus. Freet estimates that the average response time for the UMSL Police Department is approximately two minutes. There are also quick and succinct training resources available to anyone on the UMSL Police Department home page. Freet hopes that teaching students about staying safe on campus will carry into their behaviors in other public places, because shootings can happen anywhere.
Options available to students and faculty during an active shooting can be summed up into three categories: run, hide, or fight. Getting as far away from the shooter as possible is of the utmost priority. People are advised to flee in a zig-zagging motion, using the surroundings to make escape more likely. Freet pointed out that many students in this generation have been taught that the first action they should take is the “lockdown” position, where people merely duck for cover on the ground. He points out that perpetrators will anticipate this. The first option, to run for an exit or a safer location, should be a student’s first instinct, rather than crouching to the floor as many have been taught to do. Running as a route of defense relies greatly on space and distance; however, if there is a threat, students should make it as difficult as possible for a perpetrator to get a clear shot. “Doing something is better than doing nothing,” said Freet.
The lieutenant alluded to a popular internet video in which an enraged man fires in close range at his ex-wife’s divorce lawyer, in front of a courthouse. He notes that the lawyer avoided being killed by shifting back and forth behind a narrow tree trunk; only his extremities were hit, and once the gun was out of bullets, his attacker was tackled to the ground. While behind a tree may not seem like an ideal place to hide from gunshots, Freet points out that the lawyer’s distractions were enough to save his life. “That gives others time to do something,” he said. “It’s about breaking their concentration.” Hiding should be a last resort, and it should be done with tact. Using belts, desks, and even chairs to secure doors should be something every student thinks about in these situations. If escape is not going to work, hiding and staying quiet and calm is the next logical step.
There is a third option, which is to fight the attacker. Freet says that throwing items or tackling the perpetrator can be enough to throw him or her off and thus save lives. The attacker flinching at a thrown object or a twinge of pain for a moment could be enough of a chance for someone else to disarm him or her. “It’s a natural human response, and that’s why it works,” Freet says. This choice may seem looming and difficult, but one is never sure how off-balance or uncoordinated an attacker could become when facing the smallest interference.
Planning ahead and always being aware of one’s surroundings seem to be common sense, but Freet encourages students to put it into practice. Campus Safety offers emergency situation trainings and plan materials on their website, as well as live trainings throughout the year per request. Despite the need to get the message about these options out, it is important to remember the probability of such an event taking place, in comparison to natural disasters, which are much higher in likelihood. Keeping the three options (run, hide, fight) in the back of one’s mind can make all the difference. Freet said, “All of us, when we’re under stress, do what feels familiar to us in the moment.”