Responding to campus emergencies remains high on the list of priorities for the nation’s college and university presidents. In the past, preparing for student protests and demonstrations as well as for earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters was typically the primary focus for campus emergency planning efforts. However, more recently, effective response to an “active shooter” on campus ranks among the most frightening and difficult emergencies for which colleges and universities must plan.
In recent years, the nation has been shocked by mass shooting episodes in high schools and colleges. Although the Columbine, Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois incidents remain fresh in our memories, one need only recall the gravely disturbing set of actions that culminated in multiple casualties at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966. In that first notable active shooter event at a major college campus, 14 individuals lost their lives while 32 others were wounded when sniper Charles Whitman went on a 96-minute shooting spree from the observation deck of the Tower at the University of Texas administration building. Since then, active shooter scenarios have occurred sporadically on college campuses across the nation, including on universities within the 23-campus California State University system.
Because it is impossible to predict the time, place or manner in which an active shooter event may unfold, CSU campuses have been mandated by Chancellor Charles Reed to prepare for such a crisis by conducting “active shooter drills” on an annual basis. In August, CSULB conducted its second active shooter drill. President F. King Alexander and other key campus administrators observed the drill, which involved police officers from University Police, the Long Beach Police Department and members of the LBPD Special Weapons and Tactics team, and police officers from the Veterans Affairs Hospital which sits adjacent to the CSULB campus.
This recent drill took place in one of CSULB’s campus residence halls. The chilling sounds of shots being fired along with the high degree of professionalism and the serious disposition exhibited by responding officers made for a very realistic simulation. The simultaneous test of campus emergency notification systems incorporated into the drill was also quite impressive. Although a planning drill of this nature could not anticipate every aspect of a real time event, it did provide University Police and the emergency planning team with a significant test of communication and coordination protocols.
We all hope that we are never confronted with an active shooter episode at CSULB. However, drills such as the one conducted this past August better prepare the university to respond if we were ever required to do so.