Gunning for campus security
Marcus Clem | copy editor
The first session in a series to inform Pittsburg State about what to do during the unthinkable, and overall help promote a safe campus, was held on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
This event, primarily intended to educate PSU students staff and faculty about defense against a shooter on campus, was held in 107 Grubbs Hall. It saw a high turnout of staff and faculty, but a comparatively low response from students.
As co-emergency managers for Pittsburg State, Steve Erwin, associate vice president of campus life, and Mike McCracken, university police chief, are responsible for leading a team of about 12 faculty and staff dedicated to campus security.
Erwin said that this role has radically changed in the last decade because of the increased occurrence of mass shootings in public areas, like universities, across the United States.
“Unfortunately, our discussion with campus safety has really become framed on this topic,” he said. “Not long ago, we’d mainly think of campus stairways and sidewalks, and questions like, ‘Are they clear and even?’ Particularly high-profile events on campuses have changed that.”
Using a PowerPoint presentation sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Erwin and McCracken used this session, the first of a planned four, to broadly discuss two topics.
The first was centered on preparing for and responding to an “active shooter,” which FEMA defines as a person who is engaged in the killing or attempted killing of multiple, indiscriminately selected targets in a public space.
“They’ve become more frequent,” Erwin said. “It seems you can’t turn on the television today without seeing the threat covered somewhere.”
Erwin and McCracken detailed that in a shooting situation, victims have perhaps a split second to decide whether to evacuate, seek concealment and cover or attempt to fight the assailant. One example that was used as a potential weapon for last-ditch self-defense was a pair of scissors.
One of the student attendants, an advocate for allowing conceal-and-carry on campus, said she doesn’t believe that her questions about self-defense against an active shooter were sufficiently answered.
“My question about what tactics can be used when a shooter enters the room, I do not feel were sufficiently answered,” said Tara Creek, senior in psychology. “We are allowed to carry knives of a certain length on campus, but we’re not taught how to use them. I see self-defense for a person my size as kind of pointless because I cannot take down a male shooter.”
McCracken also detailed how the police will respond in the event of an emergency.
“Our immediate purpose there is to stop the active shooter,” he said. “First responders are not going to stop to do anything other than to eliminate the threat.”
People at the scene of a shooting should evacuate if at all possible in the direction police are arriving and do exactly what they’re told, McCracken said.
“If bystanders don’t follow instructions, they run several risks,” he said. “The main risk is, when you encounter police, if you don’t get on the ground, you’re going to be put on the ground until the immediate area is secure.”
The second topic also concerned the prospect of an emergency such as a school shooting. However, it focused on the campus safety group’s efforts to use scientific analysis in part by forensic psychologist J. Reid Meloy to help identify shooters before they act.
There are few common characteristics in terms of personality or situation among would-be shooters, studies show, but frequently, investigations of mass shootings reveal that someone knew something of the danger beforehand.
This has caused security experts to encourage a “if you see something, say something” culture since 2002, Erwin said.
“It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that I get a call or an email weekly to check someone out,” Erwin said, adding that “99.9 percent” of these come to no end. “But it is that 0.1 percent that you want to pick up and hold onto, and be prepared to intervene.”
One of the student attendees questioned the information presented about would-be shooter psychology.
“One that was said is, ‘there is no use for a profile (of potential shooters),’” said Chris Munday, junior in justice studies. “But one entire slide was a profile. It had behaviors, physical, mental and psychological characteristics, everything they described. Those are all elements of a profile. I think that to say that there is no use for a profile is bunk.”
New alert system
During the course of their presentation, Erwin and McCracken detailed the planned activation of the Rave Guardian system at PSU on March 1.
The system will be supported by automatic installation of home phone numbers, official campus email addresses, and office phone numbers owned by students, faculty and staff, Erwin said.
The text-message notification program that currently exists will incorporate all who are signed up, so they won’t have to reregister. People who are not signed up now will still be able to opt out, though the goal is to persuade as many as possible to not do that, Erwin said.
The Rave Guardian system will also enable the university to post a message to the desktops of all computers tied into the active registry of the university’s Internet service. Tornado warnings, campus closures on account of snow and ice, and any active shooter threat are some of the potential uses for this capability.
All computers that are connected directly to the campus active registry, including those in the library and computer labs, will be affected, Erwin said. Wirelessly connected devices will not be affected.