What if there was an active shooter on campus?


By Sara Bertsch Managing Editor

Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School and Columbine High School are three schools that will forever be remembered as the locations of some of the deadliest mass shootings to occur in the United States. In those three places alone, 72 people were killed.

Mass shootings or any violent crime cannot be predicted, but campuses across the country are doing what they can to be equipped for it.

South Dakota State University is one of those universities preparing for the worst. According to Don Challis, assistant vice president of safety and security, campus has several methods in effect to prevent such an event.

For one, there is a Behavioral Intervention Team on campus dedicated to identifying those who are and may be at risk of harm to themselves or others around them.

Second, the officers of SDSU University Police Department undergo training every year with active shooter protocols. In addition, all of the faculty and staff have taken active shooter training.

Third, there are protocols on campus for not just an active shooter, but other emergencies including a gas leak, bomb threat, fire or weather emergency.

And finally, Challis, one of the top officials on campus has personal experience with a campus shooting.


Behavioral Intervention Team

In order to lessen risk, early identification is crucial. This is the job of the Behavioral Intervention Team.

This team, which meets every two weeks, is comprised of representatives across campus, including the Counseling Center, Dean of Students Office, Residence Life and Housing, the Office of Safety and Security, the University Police Department, academics, athletics and human resources.

According to Jay Trenhaile, the head of the counseling and human development department as well as the faculty member of the BIT team, it is a collective group of individuals from across campus who provide different perspectives.

“We look at pieces of information that is turned in and determine the level of concern,” Trenhaile said.

The process relies on community members and individuals on campus to look at the people around them, including friends, family and coworkers.

With Trenhaile’s background in the field of mental health, he became a part of the BIT team in 2012 as the faculty perspective.

“By creating the Behavioral Intervention Team, we are taking positive steps,” Trenhaile said. “Sometimes you’ve seen signs, but it’s difficult to predict these things happening.”

The team is responsible for going through and evaluating every report that is submitted regarding a threatening or concerning behavior.

According to Challis, this is a very important aspect of overall prevention of an active shooter.

“While it is important to train people to respond to an active shooter it is very important that we have a process that allows the potential to identify those who may pose a threat of harm to self or others,” Challis said. “That is the reason we have the BIT.”

Online there is a concerning or threatening behavior referral form for people who are concerned about someone. If a person suspects an individual may pose a threat to themselves or others, they can use the form.

The form is a serious matter and should be used only if there is a real concern.

“15 to 20 percent of adults have some sort of mental health issues,” Trenhaile said. “Just because they have a level of sadness does NOT mean they are turning into an active shooter.”

Members of the team go through training as well. They go through different scenarios with various levels and phases of aggression as part of the training according to Trenhaile.

In May, there will be more specific training on the threat assessment process. Around 60 people representing universities, state, federal and local law enforcement agencies will attend this training, Challis said.

Trenhaile believes that SDSU has seen a lot of updates in the past years, which makes for a safer campus.

“You could spend a tremendous amount of time and have a lot of our people involved..” Trenhaile said. “Our system is evolving and continues to improve… The university has placed an emphasis so we are in a better situation to respond.”


University Police Department

Students are safer on campus than anywhere else.

More specifically, students are less likely to be victimized on campus than anywhere else, according to Challis.

“When you look at victimization across different environments, a person is less likely to be victimized on a university campus than they are anyplace else, this includes shopping centers, movie theaters, even their own homes,” Challis said.

What makes this statement true is the amount of training the university police officers are required to undergo.

Corporal Jonathan Anderson has been with the SDSUPD for 13 years. He specializes in all firearms, active shooter and use-of-force situations.

According to Anderson, there is active shooter training twice a year. The training is scenario based and they use air soft guns and force-on-force. By doing this, the officers can receive actual hits and know when they have made a mistake.

“We work on a problem and then we can see how to solve it,” Anderson said.

The city and county officers are invited to the university training as well. The same goes for city and county trainings. This gives the officers multiple active shooter trainings every year, not just two.

The trainings will undergo numerous scenarios with different outcomes, either ending in an individual in custody or the use of lethal force.

“They make mistakes and learn how to correct those mistakes. They learn what tactics work,” Anderson said. “We always are learning as officers… we tell them ‘empty up your cups so we can refill it.’”

According to Anderson, the active shooter training began about seven years ago and the program really started to develop.

Anderson also trains all faculty and staff on active shooter awareness. Each employee is required to take it once. This training is less comprehensive than the officers’ training. Anderson provides a presentation about the history of active shooters and what employees can do during an active shooting to protect themselves.

Throughout campus, Anderson believes SDSU has taken several steps in improving safety across the entire campus with more cameras and lighted areas. However, he still thinks there could be some improvement.

“We need more officers. Once they get more officers, it’d be nice to do more talks with people about safety and how to be safe on campus,” Anderson said.

Anderson would also like to see students receiving some training in the future on how to be safer on campus.

Even though student training is not approved yet, Anderson still has advice for students if there were ever to be a shooting.

First, students need to get out of the building as fast as possible if there is an active shooter. Once the student is safe, they need to report it as soon as possible. Students are not to stick around and take photos or video.

If they cannot get out of the building, they need to hide. Anderson said that students should find a room and secure it using anything inside the room, such as desks or tables. Anything that can barricade the door.

After the room is secured, students should turn off the lights, shut off any electronic devices and stay quiet.

The last resort is for students to fight back. That is only if absolutely necessary, Anderson said.

From there, the police will take over and handle the situation.

“I believe my officers are very well trained on this issue,” Anderson said. “We are prepared to do whatever it takes to get the job done and save as many people as possible.”


Active Shooter Protocol

An active shooter can never be predicted, which means that there is little to no warning to students and staff on campus during a shooting.

For emergencies, such as an active shooter, SDSU has set protocols for everyone campus to follow.

First off, everyone needs to remain calm. By remaining calm, students and staff can better plan a strategy during the emergency.

If possible, individuals on campus should secure the immediate area, whether in a classroom, office, residence hall, or restroom. This includes barricading the door with whatever is available. If it is safe, allow others to seek refuge in the room.

Other protective actions include closing blinds and blocking windows. This reduces the vulnerability of everyone inside the room. All electronics should be turned off or on silent. Once the room is secured, people should remain behind other objects in the room that can offer additional protection.

If the room cannot be secured, people should look for protection between themselves and the shooter. And when the opportunity arises, escape the area.

Calling the UPD is another high priority after individuals are safe. If people are using an on campus phone, they can dial 111. If not, they can dial 688-6805 or 911.

Dispatchers will ask for as much information as possible. Students, staff and faculty should try to provide the information clearly and calmly. After doing so, the dispatcher can inform law enforcement and emergency personnel.

If individuals have called the police, but cannot speak, they should leave the line open so the dispatcher can hear what is happening. The location can often be determined, even without speaking.

If someone is injured, Emergency Medical Services will respond but cannot enter the area until it is secured by law enforcement. If they are bleeding, people can apply pressure and elevate. Items such as clothing or paper towels can be used for this. Again, they should try to remain quiet and calm.

Everyone needs to remember that help is on the way. While they are waiting, people need to remain inside the secure area. Law enforcement will take care of stopping the shooter.

The safest place for people to be during this type of emergency is in a secure room.

For more in-depth information on active shooter protocols, visithttp://www.sdstate.edu/safety/.

Don Challis, Assistant Vice President of Safety and Security

November 1, 1991 is a day that will forever be engraved in Challis’ mind.

At that time, Challis was a police officer at the University of Iowa when a graduate student opened fire on the campus killing four people and injuring several others.

“At the time, we were looking for the person. We did not know where he was, was he still alive or not, and generally are we safe,” Challis said.

According to an article from the New York Times in 1991, the entire school was in shock. Nobody believed there would be a shooting in Iowa.

“The images of that day will be with me forever,” Challis said. “The investigation showed there were numerous warning signs that were missed. Since then I have been involved in the threat assessment process, as a tool to reduce campus violence.”

Challis carries his memories of the event with him in his position at SDSU.  The purpose of Challis’s position as the assistant vice president of safety and security, is to make sure SDSU is using a comprehensive approach to safety and security.

This includes making the campus aware of its own responsibilities to be safe along with providing information and access to community resources, he said.

“The goal is to create a culture where the safety and security of the community is a primary consideration,” Challis said.

In order to do this, students, staff, faculty and community members need to be aware of everyone around them.

According to Challis, the best defense is when everyone is looking at the friends and colleagues on campus. If people on campus can identify others who are having difficulties, something can be done before it is too late.

“It is one of the hardest things to do when students or faculty have to tell someone about a friend who is being disruptive to themselves in the workplace or the classroom,” he said.

This is where the BIT team and everyone on campus can combine forces and be aware of everyone around them.

However, there can always be improvements. Challis believes that increasing community awareness and participation of community members in creating a safe and secure environment would enhance community safety.

If there would be an active shooting on campus, students, faculty and staff should follow the safety protocols. There will also be an emergency notification sent out to the entire campus from the University Police Department.