Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wayne State's "Active Shooter" Class Prepares Students For Victimization

Roughly five months after a Henry Ford Community College student was fatally shot on campus by a fellow student, Wayne State University (WSU) announced on September 22nd the launch of an online class to inform its students of what they should do if a shooting happens on campus. The course, designed for current students, workers, and faculty, is entitled, "Be Prepared: Surviving an Active Shooter Incident."

The course takes about an hour to complete and has six easy to follow modules:
  • Defining The Active Shooter
  • Surviving An Active Shooter Incident
  • Reporting An Active Shooter Incident
  • Helping The Injured
  • Police Response - What To Expect
  • Closing/Follow-up


As a certified firearms and personal protection trainer, I had a desire to take the class to see if in my opinion it would yield any useful advice for students on a college campus while a shooting incident was occurring. A friend, who is currently enrolled at WSU, facilitated my viewing of the class.

A Stirring Start For An Important Subject

Unless, you have lived in a cave for last 15 years or so, most middle-aged people have undoubtedly heard of several highly publicized workplace and school shootings on the national level. However, today's college-age students do not have the benefit of being jolted every couple of years to the news of yet another mass killing that Generation X-ers, such as myself, have wearingly grown accustomed to hearing.

The opening course lesson provided background info, perhaps too much, on several mass killings. For each covered mass-shooting incident, the class recounts where the attack happened, the name of the attackers, how the attack happened, how many people were killed and injured, whether and how the attacker died, how many shots were fired, and how long the attacks lasted in real-time.

The statistical run-down on mass-shooting incidents included the following: Columbine High School, Virginia Tech University, and Northern Illinois University. The key take-away from this section is that these events can occur seemingly without warning, can yield high body counts, and will most likely be over before local law enforcement can arrive.

The module closes after documenting seven common elements of school shooting incidents that researchers have uncovered after studying them: most incidents happen in urban areas, most shootings involve males between the ages of 11 and 27, most shooters are white, most shooters were loners who were rejected by women, most shooters had detailed plans of attack, most shooters had access to guns, and all victims were chosen at random.

In my opinion, nothing of much use can be done with the aforementioned data by students under attack. The cynic in me suggests that the facts, as presented, provides a handy justification for - in the words of the class - to "neutralize" and "take out" the assailant.

If the intent of the opening lesson was to increase awareness of the frequency of mass shootings, to stress how grave this issue is to students under attack, and to illustrate why this class is important, then it was successful. It felt unduly long to complete but I understand why the opening was done this way.

The Good Things I Observed In The Class

The best over-all module in the course was Lesson III. This chapter gave detailed information on how a person should report a shooting incident. While it may be questionable that a student under a high stress situation, like an active shooter scenario, can remember and make note of all the info that law enforcement would like to receive in a call-for-help, this module requested a treasure-trove of details.

I would urge students to do their best to recall the info as best as they can but rely upon the operator to lead them through the information gathering process. A laundry list of 30 or so details to provide in a frantic distress call is a stretch goal, at best.

Curiously enough, the class asks that callers do not call Detroit Police via 9-1-1. Instead they are directed to call WSU's Police Department. The stated reason is that their response time - believe it or not - is 60 seconds or less. I don't personally believe that fact but it was stated as the principal justification. Another given reason, which is more plausible, is that they know the campus better than local law enforcement.

I support the efforts of the Detroit Police Department (DPD), but I realize that they have their hands full with crime-fighting tasks outside of WSU's campus. Their response times are poor if they respond at all, their investigations are bad as evidenced by their 30% case closure rate, and according to a recent report in the media are understaffed by about 500 officers on the street. Personally, I don't have any info about how well WSU's police force does it job, but a fast response from them rather than relying upon DPD has to be the better choice.

Another detailed module in the class was Lesson V. Contained therein was detailed info on what to expect when law enforcement responds. In essence, students - still on the scene - are being taught how not to be perceived as threat. Great pains were taken to make sure that an additional tragedy doesn't occur - the shooting of an innocent student by campus police. Much of it appears to be common sense, but this course leaves nothing to chance.

Generally speaking, students should expect police officers on the scene to be geared up for a confrontation. Thus, they stay where they are located until found by a Search-and-Rescue Team, do exactly as told - not too much and not too little, keep their hands visible at all times, and refrain from any conduct that may surprise or startle officers. There is a huge list of things "to do" and "not to do." Hopefully, students will be able to just focus on remaining calm and follow instructions as ordered by the police.

One confusing aspect of this module confused me. If a student is with a "downed" assailant who had a weapon, the students are asked to move the weapon from the immediate area without holding or handling it. Presumably, they could have said kick it away if that's what they meant. However, if that's what they meant then they should have said that. Like I said, that part was confusing.

Two Modules That Don't Make The Grade

As a person who is a Red Cross certified responder for first aid, CPR, and AED, I was grossly disappointed with the dearth of material in Lesson IV. It was the shortest module, as it was even surpassed by the Conclusion module - Lesson VI - in length.

In a nutshell, students are taught to help other students stop bleeding wounds by applying direct pressure and elevating the affected area. Care was mentioned to not directly touch any blood. The diagram in the section, interestingly enough, shows a person with rubber gloves helping a victim. The text for the section, however, tells ad hoc care-givers to use whatever implements (e.g. clothing, feminine napkins, coat drawstrings, and etc.) that can be improvised to provide assistance.

In my opinion, this whole section needs to either have more info added or be totally scrapped from the class. From a practical perspective, a student without any basic first aid training may put himself at risk and render ineffectual aid to any victims.

The other section in this class that was disappointing was the last module - Lesson VI. As the concluding lesson, I was anticipating a recap of all the info that was presented throughout the class, especially with an emphasis on how to survive a shooting incident on campus. It seems to be a forgone conclusion, that surviving a shooting on campus will be largely dependent on not being shot by the assailant and awaiting a rescue from a fast-responding police unit detail.

This module was primarily a recitation of the previous module - how to behave when the police get there. This lesson added no additional insight and could be safely scrapped from the class with no ill-effect.

The Ultimate Worth Of This Course Is What Is Shared In Module II

It wasn't until I reviewed the entire class, that I came to the inescapable conclusion that my opinion of this overall course will based almost entirely on Module II. Given the parameters of a campus shooting incident - a well armed assailant with a detailed plan of attack which will probably be over before law enforcement arrives - this is the only really relevant module that can meet the promise of the course.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that much of what was presented to students in this module is typically found in a Personal Protection Class. The key to surviving an incident is to quickly assess the situation and act quickly. Survivors act - victims panic.

I was impressed with the fact that the class did not list submission as a means of responding to a shooting incident on campus. History has shown that giving up will only lead to being shot and possibly killed. The only three options given to students were to flee the campus, find a place to hide, or confront the attacker to "take him down."

The part about confronting a well organized and armed attacker bordered on the absurd. Confrontation, of course, is the last resort of surviving an attack but I was disgusted to view scenes of students pathetically throwing office supplies at a sociopath armed with a firearm. Other info that I felt disappointed about seeing in the class was the advice for students not to band physically together when hiding. The idea here is that if he starts shooting, his body count won't be as high.

Bottom Line:
A student's chance of surviving a mass-shooting incident on campus will largely be outside of his control. This online class, for the most part, will not save anyone's life after viewing it. Some campus shooting survivors will be the people who heard gunfire, recognized it as such, and took action by either fleeing or hiding. Some victims will be those persons who were unaware and/or failed to take action and were later discovered by the assailant.

Hearing gunfire on campus, means that someone has already been shot and that others nearby will be shot soon. Nothing in this online class addresses that fact. If campus police arrive in promised and previously stated 60 second response time, the number of victims can still be remarkably high.

Unfortunately, the only true solution to safe-guarding students, workers, and faculty during a mass-shooting episode on campus is unaddressed by this online class. Currently, university classrooms and dormitories are pistol-free zones under Michigan law.

If law-abiding, qualified, and licensed students, faculty, and workers were allowed to carry concealed firearms on campus, there would be a chance that there could be zero victims during a shooting attempt. Under current law there will always be victims, as the attacks are targeting unarmed victims and are over before the police can respond.

By the way, Michigan Senate Bill 747, which will allow licensed concealed firearms on campus, was recently introduced in Lansing. If you truly care about preventing mass killings on Michigan campuses, you will call your Senator and support this legislation.
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