Last week, Virginia Tech released over 200 e-mails, extensive interviews and other notes concerning Seung-Hui Cho, the student who brutally murdered 35 classmates in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. More than two years later, knowing that the threat of in-school shootings is real, officials at Palm Beach Community College (PBCC) and Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBAU) are educating their student body on the subject through the use of instructional videos.
The documents were given to the parents of the deceased victims before being released to the public. The documents consisted of concerned teachers and counselors’ reports attempting to help the disturbed student long before the shooting.
Both PBCC and PBAU took action by purchasing licenses to show videos that provide defensive techniques for students to use in an “active shooter” situation, according to The Palm Beach Post.
PBCC posted two 20-minute videos on the school’s Web site earlier this month. PBAU is currently training staff for the videos and will screen them in class to students in January.
One of PBCC’s videos, titled “Shots Fired on Campus: When Lightning Strikes,” offers methods that students can employ in an emergency situation. One approach instructs the students to band together to overpower the shooter should he enter the classroom, which entails “throwing books and bags at him, screaming or tackling and restraining him.”
But this strategy reflects PBAU’s specific circumstances, said Sergeant Steve Monsanto of UCIPD. PBAU is a private school, and private schools traditionally contract security in place of police officers.
The benefits of a campus-based police force extend far beyond issuing speeding tickets. Working under government salary and regulations allows UCIPD to train in expensive situational training exercises with other police forces and requisition pricey equipment, from protective body armor to computer uplinks in police cruisers that link up to the Internet. Additionally, UCIPD is able to call upon Irvine and Newport Police Departments in the event of an emergency.
“Our response time is hopefully under three minutes,” Monsanto said, “with [Irvine or Newport] five minutes behind us.”
Another video PBCC and PBAU provided online shows tips for easy self-defense and quick get-aways through barricading doors, turning off lights in classrooms to conceal the class and huddling together to make it more difficult for the shooter to have multiple targets.
“The idea is that if there is a classroom of 40 kids, or an auditorium of 200, and one guy with a handgun, the paradigm can be changed,” said Randy Spivey, executive director of the Center for Personal Protection and Safety, which produced the videos.
Although they’ve held almost two dozen seminars on school shootings since the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007, the official UCIPD strategy for studnets to follow in the event of a shooting is simply to “Get Out! ESCAPE.” Only after all alternatives of hiding or evading notice should the student attack the attacker.
“It’s physically impossible to train students to respond [that way,]” Monsanto said. “We would never have classes [to do that.]”
Police procedures, on the other hand, have changed significantly since and because of recent school shootings.
“Before Columbine, our strategy was to set up a containment around the shooting and call in SWAT,” Monsanto said. “Since then, if there’s an active shooter, we get a three-person team and go in.”
In addition to training, UCIPD carries new specialty equipment. Officers are trained in AR-15 assault rifles and ballistic shields, traditionally the fare of heavily armed Special Weapons units.
After Sept. 11 2001, fear of chemical attacks forced police departments to reform the more relaxed gas mask and chemical protection suit regulations, updating policies requiring gear to be readily available and specifically fitted.
Spivey began filming survival training movies after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. However, he felt there was not enough emphasis on the action a student could take to protect him or herself, an ideal, he claims is more important than mental health counseling for students, or even law enforcement at school. He hopes, however, that other schools will soon follow suit and begin screening their own videos to students.
“A lot of people don’t want to talk about this,” Spivey said. “There is a hesitancy to say, ‘Hey, here’s something you can do to save yourself.’ “