Staying Safe During an Attack on Campus
Around 2:00AM on Sunday morning, an armed man entered a nightclub in Orlando, Florida and opened fire on the people inside. Forty-nine innocent people were shot and killed, while 53 others were severely injured, some of them still in critical condition as of Monday, June 13th.
If you’ve turned on a television or read a newspaper in the last 24 hours, you’ve likely seen this horrific news—seen the sobbing friends and family members, seen the tributes and vigils around the country in remembrance and solidarity for the lives lost.
This kind of mourning and tragedy isn’t anything new for the United States. In 2015 alone, there were 372 mass shootings that resulted in the deaths of 475 people, and injuring more than 1,800. Many of the mass shootings in the US have taken place on school grounds—college campuses, high schools, and even elementary schools. School shootings accounted for 64 of the mass shootings in 2015.
Many college students go to campus each day in fear of their school being the next unfortunate target for one of these tragedies. As a college instructor through these last few years, I often feared not only for my own safety, but for the safety of my students. Our classroom doors couldn’t be locked until activated from a remote area; many of us, as instructors, worried about whether we would be able to keep our students safe should an attacker enter the building. Three times over the last school year, our campus went into lockdown due to threats and sightings of armed gunmen on the campus perimeter. During a class meeting one day, someone in a room down the hall popped some balloons, and sent my students lunging under their desks. We skipped the lesson and instead sat in silence watching the news as the events at Umpqua Community College unfolded in Oregon last October. Even if tragedies have not hit our campuses directly, we are all affected by gun violence. As college students, it’s important to understand what you can do to make your campus a safer place, and to keep yourself safe should something happen.
Start or join an anti-gun violence organization on campus.
Many campuses across the US are arguing about whether or not students should be allowed to carry concealed weapons onto their college campuses. The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus has resources and information on how to rally support for keeping your campus weapon-free. Keeping weapons off campus could be a positive step toward limiting instances of gun violence. Through a university organization, urge your school’s administration to forbid students, faculty, and staff from carrying concealed weapons on campus.
Sign up for email or text alerts from your school.
Many college and universities have text and email alert systems that will immediately notify all registered and enrolled students of any emergencies on and near campus. Some of these alert systems automatically sign up enrolled students, but some systems might require you to accept terms and sign up yourself. Check with your college to find out for sure. These alerts have been useful to me personally when we had an armed intruder on our campus last year, and I knew to keep my students in the classroom until the danger was cleared.
Alert someone if you see any threats, online or otherwise.
Threats can come in many different forms, and they can show up in all different kinds of venues. You might see something posted anonymously online, or you might hear a classmate say something disturbing or unsettling. Report these to the university police. On the other hand, if you know someone who is showing signs of violence, or who is thinking about hurting themselves or others, report these concerns as well. Reach out to the university counseling center, or anonymously report your concerns through your school’s student outreach office.
Know your emergency routes.
Before classes begin each semester, scope out the buildings they are in and make sure you know what escape routes you can take should an emergency situation occur on campus. Find elevators, stairwells, and safe places to hide in the building itself should it be locked down. Find out if classroom doors can be locked manually. Always remember where you parked your car, and try to keep a good charge on your cell phone to be able to contact emergency services or family members in the event of an emergency.
Remaining calm is the most essential thing you can do should your campus be faced with an emergency or active shooter situation. Stay focused, keep your cool, and get yourself to safety. If you can’t get away or outside, barricade yourself in a room and shut off the lights. Turn off the sound on your cell phone and stay quiet until help comes. But also, stay calm in your day to day life. Even in the light of all these tragedies, we still must go on living, and we shouldn’t do so in constant fear. Stay prepared and ready, but keep living your life.
Stay aware of your surroundings.
Whether you’re at school, work, or the shopping mall, staying alert and aware of what’s around you is a step towards safety. Try not to stare down at your phone while you walk on campus. Keep your head up and look around. If something happens, you will be able to react more quickly and get to safety.
The attack in Orlando serves as yet another reminder that the United States has found itself falling into a sad, tragic pattern of mass violence. It’s unfortunate that anyone should have to prepare for the possibility of a gunman entering their campus, but it’s a reality many people have already faced, and preparation could help keep people safe in the future. Want to push for more safety at your school? Petition your administration for rules regarding weapon carrying, and checkpoints on campus. Write to your local and state government officials. Make your voice heard.