As mass shooting episodes fail to cease, students are becoming ever familiar with the crisis situations playing out across the nation. Active shooter incidents have occurred 57 times on school grounds in 2015 alone, 23 of which took place on college or university campuses, according to Time Magazine.
Twenty-three was almost 24, when such a situation became a near-reality for Valparaiso University last April. Shortly after 7 p.m. on April 21, the Valparaiso Police Department non-emergency line received a phone call from a man claiming to have hostages held at gunpoint in the Christopher Center for Library and Information Resources.
After an initial sweep of the building, no trace of criminal activity was found, and the situation was declared a hoax.
Police arrested then-student Michael Clemens, 21, who allegedly made the call from a bathroom in Gellersen Engineering and Mathematics Center. He has been charged with intimidation and false reporting to police, both Level 6 felonies.
The call initiated a widespread response from local law enforcement agencies, including the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
After the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, legislation passed which required that all universities and colleges in the U.S. implement systems for notifying students of imminent danger or threats. As a result, students receive VUPD alerts via email and can follow @valpoalert on twitter.
Alerts sent to students last April instructed them to “shelter-in-place,” and to stay away from the ChristopherCenter. Despite this plea, however, many gathered on the lawn outside the CCLIR and Harre Union to watch the situation unfold.
Sophomore Kaitlyn Matthews described the incident as “a lot of chaos and miscommunication.”
She was critical about the university’s preparedness level.
“Had it been a real situation, it would have been pretty bad,” she said.
Part of the current university policy for an active shooter scenario states that anyone on campus “take protective cover within [their] shelter-in-place location, staying away from windows and doors until notified otherwise.”
Full instructions for handling an active shooter scenario and other crisis situations can be found scattered across campus in “Emergency Resource Information” booklets, or online at valpo.edu/emergencymanagment.
Despite this public information, however, students, faculty and staff are not trained or relayed this information unless it is intentionally sought out.
University spokesperson Nicole Niemi said in a statement that “active shooter training is top of mind for many given recent incidents on other campuses. The University does not currently mandate training.”
Freshman Spencer Anderson experienced a shooting at his school in seventh grade.
“Someone was shot three times...and after that there were cops roaming around the hallways 24/7,” he said.
He also said that he had “not at all” been informed about emergency procedures for an active shooter scenario as a new student to Valpo’s campus.
In high school, Matthews took part in a mass casualty drill. She suggested training of a similar likeness would be beneficial to students at Valpo, in addition to general first aid training.
“It’s easy to think that if you’re in a situation like that you’ll think ‘I’m smart...I’ll find a way out,’” she said. “You realize that it really takes a good amount of preparedness for you to have a survival situation.”
Niemi also said in the statement that “VUPD offers and provides training to all departments and student groups upon request. In addition, VUPD officers receive active shooter training and participate in active drills and exercises.”
One area of campus which has taken advantage of this training is coincidentally the CCLIR.
Circulation Manager Sam Simpson was not on duty at the time of the fake hostage call or response, but she attributes the training that VUPD provided the building staff to the effective handling of the situation.
She said it was because of that training that students knew exactly what to do when they saw law enforcement enter the building that April night.
“I think it is something that should be done across campus. I think it would make everybody feel a lot more comfortable if all the departments and students had an idea of what’s going on,” Simpson said.
The cost-benefit analysis of campus-wide training is still being debated. Critics argue that shooting scenario drills incite unnecessary panic and fear.
VUPD Assistant Chief of Police Chuck Garber said that despite the discrepancy, education will always remain at the top.
“I honestly do not know what is the best [form of training] but the more we talk about it, just like anything else, we’ll be more prepared to handle it,” he said.
VUPD continuously updates their strategies.
“The thing is, it keeps changing; it keeps developing, and law enforcement has to change with the threats and the terror changes,” said Garber.
After the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, which left 13 students dead, VUPD realized the way they trained would have to change.
“We were one of the first in the area to start working on active shooter training critical incidents,” said Garber.
Today, he said that officers receive training about once a month regarding critical incidents.
“As we learn more about threats, officers have to change their tactics,” Garber said.
As Niemi said, VUPD offers free active shooter training to any individual or organization upon request.
Garber said if groups can’t attend an hour-long briefing session about active shooter preparedness, that a 20-minute video on FEMA’s website is worth viewing.
In the case of the hoax last April, confusion among students was rampant, as rumors of deaths and sounds of gunshots quickly spread across social media.
Assistant Dean for Residential Life Ryan Blevins sits on the Valparaiso University Incident Command Team and saw the incident unravel online.
“Some of the stories were getting epic. It’s important to not say anything unless it’s verified by IMC, the university or campus media,” he said.
Since the recent incidences in Arizona and Oregon last month,researchers now say that mass shootings are likely not isolated events. The media’s hyper-coverage of shooting episodes, experts say, may only serve to accelerate other troubled students and would-be killers.
The New York Times reported last month that the majority of mass shooting perpetrators since Virginia Tech heavily researched previous attacks before picking up the gun themselves.
A recent report analyzing mass shootings discovered that from 1997 to 2013, the probability of an attack is most likely to occur within two weeks of a previous one.
All students, faculty and staff are encouraged to educate themselves and learn about the university’s emergency response procedures, either by reading one of the Emergency Resource Information booklets or by going online to valpo.edu/emergencypreparedness.
Tweets from the Valpo Alert Twitter page may also be forwarded as a text message for faster notification.
The Torch, VUTV and WVUR will continue to seek information regarding campus preparedness and will provide updates on university policies and procedures. ValpoMedia welcomes comments and feedback to keep the conversation going.
Contact Rebecca Gesme and Brendan Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.