“We don’t mandate [active shooter] training [for faculty]”, SRU Director of Environmental Health and Safety Paul Novak explained. “We only mandate training if it’s tied to legislation, like safety training if you’re an electrician. I don’t know of any initiative right now where the president has said, ‘you have to take this.’”
SRU has an emergency operations plan and each academic department has a document that outlines evacuation plans for each individual building, as well as the contact information for each faculty member of the departments. Over the last two semesters, there have been multiple optional training sessions for members of the faculty, that they are strongly advised to attend.
On the other hand, SRU’s campus police are trained and ready for the threat of an active shooter.
“Our university police trained extensively with neighboring law enforcement,” Novak said. “They have trained with the Pittsburgh SWAT team, and they’ve also trained with other PASSHE police departments in terms of active shooter training and what they would do if an active shooter was present on campus.”
As prepared as the campus police are, Novak does not believe that they can have a specific plan of what to do if an active shooter was on campus.
“The police know what they’re going to do, but not specifically because it depends,” Novak explained. “Is there one shooter or two shooters? Does he have single firearm or multiple? Is he inside or outside? Those things are situational. They will develop the best course of action based on the situational information that they have at the time.”
Novak added that even with a well-trained police and faculty, the university is still unable to promise safety.
“When you go to a doctor for a physical, they take your blood pressure and test your blood. In the end, they don’t tear off a piece of paper that says you’re healthy. There are a lot of different components that go into that. There’s your genetics, your lifestyle, your dietary intake. All of those things factor into your personal health status. Like with health, safety is the same way. No one institution can [guarantee] that.”
This semester, the department of Environmental Health and Safety is planning three sessions focused on violence prevention on campus.
Novak related violence safety to fire safety. Although the buildings may have fire alarms and sprinklers, those measures are a response rather than a form of prevention. If the alarms or sprinklers are used, then there has been a fire. Prevention measures such as banning smoking indoors and removing combustible materials are just as important as the response.
In February, President Cheryl J. Norton and on-campus leaders underwent advanced disaster simulation training at Butler College, which helped teach them how to respond to emergency situations through the use of a virtual reality simulation. PIMA provided the grant that allowed the group to participate.
Eventually Novak hopes eventually hold a drill on campus with outside agencies in order to get more practice handing emergency situations.
“You have plans, the best way to determine how good your plan is, is to actually test it,” Novak said. “The best way to test it is to move resources like the police, the fire department, and perhaps the Red Cross. It’s easy to make a plan, but it’s different to actually see how long it takes to happen.”
Much like preventing fires, finding ways to prevent violence before it happens is also important. In order to do that, the department of Environmental Health and Safety is holding a campus violence initiative open to all students and faculty. This initiative consists of three sessions, each occurring on Fridays.
The first session is this Friday Oct. 17, and a training video about violence prevention called “Flashpoint” will be shown. According to Novak, the video was recorded on a campus and is useful information for everyone on campus, and not just faculty members.
On Friday Oct. 25, a session about stalking and intimate partner violence will be held and a video called, “Silent Storm” will be shown. Novak explained that with the rise of social media, the issue of stalking has become more prevalent. He also stated that stalking is a form of violence and it affects men and women equally. The training will teach students how to recognize stalking, and what to do if they think that they are being stalked.
The third and final session will be on Friday Nov. 1, and will show a video called “Shots Fired.” It explains how to survive if an active shooter is present. Novak believes that the movie is important because it gets people to think about what they would do in an active shooter situation before it happens.
More sessions are being planned and will be announced in the future.
“You can’t argue with the statistics in terms of the fact that violent acts do happen on campuses. That’s been documented. We’re holding [these sessions] as a training measure, and we’re doing that to provide everyone in SRU campus community an opportunity to become as prepared as possible.”
The behavioral intervention team hopes to increase awareness on campus by beginning a new advertising campaign. Their goal is to teach students to recognize dangerous situations and how to let someone know that help is required.
“In many of the incidences of documented acts of violence on campus, comments have come out from individuals who were on that campus at the time knew the individual who said, ‘I had concerns,’ or ‘something seemed to be wrong.’ But, there wasn’t a sense knowing of what to do with that information,” explained Novak.
Even though these specific programs have not started yet, Novak believes that SRU is still prepared to deal with the potential of active shooters.
“I believe that [SRU] is prepared,” Novak said. “I believe that like with any other situation. We can only enhance our preparedness. The university police are prepared, and it is our hope and belief that if these trainings are embraced by the campus community, that will only enhance their specific preparedness. We think these programs have a lot of benefits and that’s why we brought them to campus.”