OPINION: Active shooter drills lacked full campus involvement

If any students or faculty walked through the southeast corner of University Park on Dec. 17, they might have heard gunfire or seen police with replica weapons. This was not an emergency situation, it was an annual DPS drill that occurs after Fall semester during winter break. However, because the drill took place over winter break, very few students were able to benefit from it. USC Department of Public Safety’s active shooting drill in conjunction with the Los Angeles Police and Fire departments failed to include the student body, faculty and staff due to bad timing.

By choosing to run the drill when most were away for break and telling those on campus to avoid the area where the drill was happening, DPS disconnected the drill  from the community it was meant to protect. The participating officers have diminished awareness of what their roles would be if a real-life crisis arose at USC. While creating distance can benefit the mental health of students and faculty at USC, it fails to address the necessity of training them as well.

Increased preparedness unfortunately comes at a time when mass shootings are fairly common occurrences. By November 2018, the Gun Violence Archive reported there were 307 mass shootings across America last year, including the Thousand Oaks bar shooting that took place about an hour north of USC’s campus.

More universities are partnering with local law enforcement and other agencies to carry out active-shooter preparedness drills similar to the one DPS conducted over break. The National Fire Protection Agency released the NFPA 3000: Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response Program, which has been implemented at universities like Virginia Tech, Harvard and Missouri State. Missouri State also conducted its own active shooter drill over the summer to involve fire safety and hospitals for the first time.

Involving more law enforcement entities beyond campus security can more comprehensively prepare the University for a shooting. It can also give USC students greater peace of mind knowing that multiple security forces are involved in protecting them from a shooting.

USC had an active shooter scare in October 2017, shortly after the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting in Las Vegas. Many students remember the confusion that spread as conflicting information about the situation and proper protocol circulated. While the incident turned out to be false, students and faculty would have been at risk if there were an actual shooter on campus.

If a shooting were to take place, those on campus are in danger of not knowing how to keep themselves safe or making decisions that could place them in harm’s way. There is a page on the DPS safety website offering a multi-step plan and a video aimed to show those on campus what to do but it is insufficient. Beyond this page, there isn’t very much emergency training offered to students.

USC can provide such training to students as part of freshman orientation. The NFPA said that there are some universities that are including active shooter training as part of their orientation to offset these concerns. However, offering a one-size-fits-all training can come with drawbacks.

A Loyola University study found that while active shooter drills do make students feel more prepared, they also increase fears about becoming a potential victim. This can create anxiety in a place intended for learning if not handled with care. In the future, partnering with mental health services to come up with solutions to increase awareness can help students overcome anxiety and still get training.

If USC wants to ensure everyone on campus is protected, it must create programs to increase preparedness to all its faculty and students as well. Making sure DPS understands what to do in case of a shooting is an important first step. By extending training for students, faculty and staff, DPS needs to take into account how sensitive this issue can be, and provide those on campus with greater awareness without increasing stress or worry.

In the future, DPS should involve students and faculty in drill exercises in a way that gives them greater assurance should a crisis ever arise.