Shooting sprees yield new lessons for campus safety

By Emily Eiermann and Dave Nugent

Between the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Colorado movie-theater shooting and other similar incidents across the country, the number of mass shootings reached 16 last year, according to The New York Times.

In order to keep the Rider community safe should an active shooter situation arise, Public Safety has been training on-campus groups how to react. The latest training session, which included a video presentation, occurred during the faculty development days from Jan. 22 – 24.

Public Safety Director Vickie Weaver cited five “outs” as key in Rider’s survival plan: figure out, get out, hide out, take out and call out.

The first step for students and faculty in this situation is to assess the scene, according to Weaver. Knowing who is involved and where you’re located is invaluable information that can be crucial in survival.

Getting out of the situation would be ideal, if possible.

“If you have the opportunity to get away from the situation, get out,” Weaver said. “Know multiple escape routes. Know different stairwells and different entry routes.”

If escape is impossible, however, hiding out is the next best option. Weaver suggests hiding behind or underneath something for protection, such as a bed or a desk, and keeping silent.

Taking out the potential shooter is the best option, if there is imminent danger. Yelling, throwing things or ambushing the gunman are tactics that can be used in this event, but Weaver stresses that they should be used only in extreme cases. You must act with complete resolve and commitment.

“This should be your last resort, when the other options are not available to you,” she said.

The other step, calling out to Public Safety or local police, should be done as soon as it is safe to do so. Lt. Charles Edgar of the Lawrence Township Police Department (LTPD) said the first step is to call 9-1-1.

“In a panic situation, you have to call the police department right away,” he said. “You can’t delay and call security because it’s going to further delay the police response to the area.”

However, Weaver added that calling Public Safety is an important step to keeping the campus safe and she recommends calling x 7777 as well.

Rider’s Public Safety is not the first organization to endorse the five-outs program.

Universities such as The University of Texas at Austin and Penn State have implemented their own variations of the plan, according to their campus newspaper websites, and the idea has been circulating around various companies in New Jersey.

Michael Silverman, a junior psychology major, worked in a movie theater in a suburban part of northern New Jersey last summer. The staff was briefed on how to act in an active shooter situation, and a main focus of their talk was the “take out” step.

“The main thing is to protect the people in the theater,” he said. “They said to distract the shooter to take him down, and I agree. If I could risk my life to save a bunch of people, I would do it.”

Rider has taken other measures to keep the campus safe as well. RiderAlerts, the mass-notification system on campus, is used to spread the word about security warnings, storm announcements and other emergency situations. Students can sign up for texts and phone calls on the MyRider portal.

In addition, there are building marshals in each building on campus, including residence halls, which have radios that are connected to Public Safety. This system has been in place for several years.

“Building marshals have created checklists specific to their building to remind them of what needs to be done in specific emergencies,” said Debbie Stasolla, associate vice president for planning.

Rider also has outdoor blue-light phones scattered throughout both campuses that are directly connected to Public Safety. There are 49 on the Lawrenceville campus and six at Westminster Choir College. Indoors, there are PA phones in every classroom on both campuses that can receive information from Public Safety or the president’s office.

Edgar commended Rider on its plan, calling it “a very extensive contingency plan for major incidents.” The university has worked with the LTPD on a number of different planning and training sessions in order to keep the campus safe.

Even with all the safety precautions, however, Weaver insisted there are still ways students can help. Students should have Public Safety’s phone numbers programmed into their phones. Organizations can contact Public Safety if their members are interested in receiving safety training. Also, she warned that everyone needs to be aware of his or her surroundings and let Public Safety know if something seems unsual.

Edgar agreed that safety is everyone’s responsibility.

“If the students see something suspicious, they should call,” he said. “It’s their campus. The safety of everybody is everybody’s responsibility, not just security. Students and staff need to be vigilant.”

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