BY DEREK ALLEN
The nightmare scenario of facing an active shooter roaming The County College of Morris has prompted officials to urge the campus community to know when to run, hide or fight.
The prevalence of shootings happening in schools, movie theaters and other public places have sent shockwaves throughout the country. Two months into 2016, ten mass shootings have occurred at schools ranging from K-12 to High School, according to everytownresearch.org.
Here at the County College of Morris, the “active shooter” scenario has faculty, staff and students concerned. In response to those concerns, the department of public safety hosted an Active Shooter Forum, open to staff, students and faculty.
“Morris County is not immune to this,” Deputy Coordinator of Morris County’s Office of Emergency Management Jeff Paul said at the forum.“We don’t know where the next event will be, but there will be an event. The time is now to change that mindset and put resources to where they need to be so that we are, as one community, ready to respond to this event.”
The forum was attended by mostly faculty and a handful of students.
Critical Infrastructure Coordinator for the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Alfonse Imperiale showed data on mass shootings from various sources and clips from a Run, Hide, Fight instructional video.
According to a survey done by NYPD from 1992 to 2012 presented in the seminar, surveying 67 incidents: 96 percent of attackers were males between the ages of 13-19, 42 percent of attacks took place in the morning hours, and all shootings – except for Columbine – had one shooter acting alone.
Imperiale said there were 13 shootings in 2013, 15 shootings in 2014, and 23 shootings in 2015 in the U.S.
The video, from the Universities of Georgia and Alberta, asked students what they would do, with one student saying they would probably just freeze up. Students have so much to focus on, an active shooter situation is low on their list of priorities to think about. The video said people with a pre-set plan in mind are more likely to survive.
Imperiale said he recommends improvising with what is available. Backpack straps, belts and door stops can be used to keep doors closed. Desks and chairs can be used to barricade doors. Improvised weapons such as pens and scissors can be used to defend against a shooter. A backpack filled with thick textbooks might be enough to stop a bullet.
The video said to scan and assess the situation, consider your options, and act. Choose a safe exit, and do not attract the shooter’s attention.
“Knowing your environment and the room you are in helps,” said Imperiale. “If you see an exit but it’s down a hallway, don’t risk it. If there’s an empty classroom that’s closer, it’s better to go in there and hide.”
Imperiale said to turn off the lights, barricade the door and be quiet in the event of an active shooter. Call 911 as soon as the room is secure. Hide behind tables, mute phones, and wait for police.
Fighting, the video said, is a last resort if all other options fail. If forced to fight, disarm and incapacitate the shooter. “Mentally prepare” yourself to fight for your life, and decide ahead of time what each person will do if the shooter enters the room.
Imperiale said the first and foremost goal law enforcement has arriving on the scene is finding the active shooter and stopping them.
“That means when they come on to the scene, they’ll be moving towards gunshots,” said Imperiale. “Everyone in the building will be considered a suspect, because they don’t know [what the situation is]. When teams of officers do make contact with you, do not run towards them. Make sure your hands are visible to them. Hands are dangerous for law enforcement That’s what they’re looking at all the time.”
Imperiale said if you are forced to fight and are holding down an individual, keep your hands visible and cooperate with officers once they arrive.
“Any injured people they will bypass immediately,” said Imperiale. “They are looking for the threat, trying to neutralize it. Once the shooter has been contained or neutralized, the officers will begin treatment and evacuation.”
Chief of Randolph Township Police Department David Stokoe said he supports the principles behind the Run, Hide, Fight program.
“You are far more likely to survive a violent encounter by making decisions based on what you’re encountering at that moment,” said Stokoe. “Theyare dynamic, rapidly changing situations. That decision to either run, hide or fight is going to change based on what you’re facing. You have to be able to think on your feet and make those decisions very quickly.”
Stokoe said pre-planning will help foster immediate action that could potentially save lives. Planning for this kind of situation anywhere, not only at school, can also potentially help save lives.
“The time to think about it is not when it’s happening,” said Stokoe. “The time to think about it is now.”
Stokoe said since the Randolph Police are located just up the road from CCM, the response time should anything happen would be no more than 5 minutes.
Officers from the Randolph Police Department have toured the campus to better understand the layout of the college in terms of entrances and exits. Officers can also communicate to Public Safety directly via radio.
“We encourage [our officers] to have that visible presence,” said Stokoe. “I hope you see them on a routine basis. We work very well with Public Safety. We’re all working towards improving and enhancing our abilities in response to these types of situations.”
According to Director of Public Safety Harvey Jackson, procedures are in place to evacuate each building in the event of an active shooter. Each building has three to four faculty members trained to assist public safety in an evacuation, called fire marshals. When a building is evacuated, fire marshals check each room to make sure no one is left behind. Students and faculty are ushered to staging areas, usually in front of the library or to lot eight.
Depending on the situation, the staging area may change. Students and staff would be notified by maintenance staff, who carry radios on them at all times and would be in contact with public safety.
Titan Alert would also be used in the event of an evacuation to communicate quickly with students and faculty.
“Titan Alert is the method for which a student will be notified about school closures and other campus related emergencies,” said John R. Hurd, assistant professor of criminal justice.
“Since it seems most students have cell phones, even when on campus, that may be a preferred method to receive emergency messages.”
For an evacuation, the paging system would also be in use. In the event of an active shooter, depending on where the individual is, the paging system would not be activated in the area the shooter would be in. Maintenance is also on call in that situation if power needs to be cut to a building occupied by an active shooter.
“Personally, I feel no one can be prepared for this,” Jackson said. “We’re prepared as well as we can be. A community college is one of the hardest places to defend. Everything is public.”
Since CCM is a county college, most of the campus is legally public space. Anyone can walk onto campus, which makes it difficult to keep the campus secure.
CCM now has an upgraded camera system, able to follow anyone on campus in real time. Another upgrade coming soon is an electronic panic button. Computers in classrooms will be equipped with a clickable button that, when activated, displays a graphic of a red button with a ten second countdown and an option to cancel the call or continue.
Jackson had a working version of the electronic panic button in his office, and demonstrated what would happen if it was activated. Once pressed, the button disappeared from his computer and an alarm sounded in the public safety main office.
The panic button can also be programmed to alert other staff in the area once it has been activated, letting others know an incident may be in progress.
The phones in every classroom can function as a panic button as well. Any phone picked up automatically dials public safety, so if a phone is picked up and left dangling that immediately raises a red flag and elicits a response from public safety. However, if it is safe to do so, it is better to call 911 directly in the event of an emergency.
According to Vice President of Business and Finance at CCM Karen VanDerhoof, training for the possibility of an active shooter will begin in March of 2016. FEMA will do a two day training session with staff on campus.
“It will basically run us through how to assess our emergency operations plan, communication strategies and how to identify and deal with situations,” VanDerhoof said. “How to deal with the aftermath of a situation, grief counseling, all of those types of things.”
VanDerhoof said a camera drill is being planned involving Public Safety, the Randolph Township Police Department and the Office of Emergency Management.
“They’ll bring their command bus here and they’ll have connectivity to our cameras on campus,” VanDerhoof said. “It will be like a pursuit drill, where we might have an individual on campus who might not belong here and we’ll be able to track, pursue and hopefully apprehend that person. That’s the first drill that will be happening later this fall.”
The next drill, planned for sometime in the fall of 2016, will be a full on active shooter drill. The drill will involve students, faculty and emergency responders, testing the college’s response to the possibility of a mass shooting.
“We are planning to do an active shooter drill on campus in the future,” said Paul. “I can’t give you a timetable on that yet, but it’s in the works. There’s a lot in the works, but it does take time. What we need to do with an active shooter event is give you your options, train with your options, have observers and evaluators there, have after-action reports. There’s a lot we need for a drill of this kind. We’re going to build on that and work from there.”
Director of the Sherman H. Masten Learning Resource Center Heather Craven said the forum was a good review of options available in the event of an emergency.
“It was really good to get first hand answers to our questions. We feel more prepared and we’ve put more thought into what we’d do,” Craven said.
Edward Yaw, CCM President, said there is no universal response to an incident, and that procedures change depending on the situation. The main focus of these preparations is communication and rapid response.
“God forbid it ever happens,” VanDerhoof said. “The odds are not great, but you never know. Very fortunately, we have very little issues on this campus, with any type of crime. But you can’t assume that it would never happen here…Unfortunately, it happens everywhere. You can’t have the mindset that it can never happen here, you have to assume it could and just be as prepared as possible for it. And that’s what we’re moving towards.”
For more information on the Run, Hide, Fight program and a full emergency response guide, visit ccm.edu/publicsafety.