As mass shootings continue to occur nationwide, officials are implementing a variety of training programs to help residents and first responders prepare.
School shootings have become uncomfortably common across the country and California has had four deadly college-related shootings in as many years. Oikos University, a private Christian school in Oakland, was the scene of the worst. In April 2012, a former student shot the college receptionist and six aspiring nurses.
Santa Monica College was next. A former student fatally shot his father and brother at home before making his way to the college, where a 15-minute rampage led to the deaths of three people. The gunman died during a shootout with police in the library.
Santa Barbara City College student Elliot Rodger killed six UC Santa Barbara students, including two roommates, last year during a chilling expression of rage in the off-campus community of Isla Vista.
And Sacramento City College’s campus was locked down for two hours last month after weapons were drawn during a verbal dispute near a baseball field on the edge of campus. One person was killed and two others wounded.
California’s public colleges and universities have taken seriously the task of preparing for the threat of mass shootings, although decisions about how to do so are made by individual campuses, administrators and public safety, experts said.
In the five years after the Virginia Tech massacre that left 32 people dead, the University of California has spent more than $17 million on enhancing security at its 10 campuses, spokeswoman Rebecca Trounson said.
The money has gone toward such measures as emergency alert systems, equipment and training for campus police departments, threat-assessment teams that review the behavior and actions of community members for potential risks, Trounson said.
Like UC, the California State University’s 23 campuses each have their own police departments with responsibility to develop and implement plans individually tailored to their size and location, system spokeswoman Toni Molle said.
“The CSU is a large system with a variety of campuses in unique settings and with unique needs, risks, etc.,” Molle said. “Each campus has their own specific plan and training programs vary depending on campus needs.”
Police departments are also evolving to meet the new threat.
Santa Monica Police Sergeant Brent Crafton said police tactics have evolved with each incident and the current tactics focus on confrontation because experience has shown shooters will continue until they are physically stopped.
“Once they are pressed, it resolves the incident a lot quicker,” he said.
While Santa Monica’s tragedy occurred at a school, Santa Monica officers training for a variety of situations because criminals are targeting multiple kinds of venues. SMPD has held trainings at local schools, malls and office centers. The department often partners with other police agencies and Crafton said the training is offered to many officers across multiple jurisdictions to better prepare whoever might respond to the call.
“With more events occurring and occurring at an alarming rate across the nation, it has prompted more awareness,” he said. “Malls, theaters, in Oregon, at Virginia Tech, we’ve tried to learn the most we can from those things and our training does involve other agencies.”
He said SMPD recently partnered with the Los Angeles County School District to run drills at vacant schools. SMPD also hosted a recent training with the Santa Monica College Police Department on the SMC campus.
Crafton said the department has also incorporated post-event care into its training regime to help officers handle the emotion of a stressful event. Santa Monica officers take a required class that teaches stress management techniques for law enforcement and the department also offers counseling, peer support groups and stress debriefings.
The City of Santa Monica also provides training and support for civilians through the Office of Emergency Management.
OEM exists to prepare the Santa Monica community for disasters, both natural and manmade. The department has a variety of plans in place for events like earthquakes, fires, floods and tsunamis but OEM also offers training courses for residents on emergency situations, including workplace violence.
“We tell folks about workplace violence, how conflicts in [the] workplace, that can lead to violence in the workplace, and we talk about conflict resolution and de-escalation,” said Lieutenant Robert Almada, Emergency Services Manager for Santa Monica. “Ultimately we talk about those extremely rare occasions [that] manifest as an active shooter and we talk to them about strategies of run, hide, fight.”
The Run-Hide-Fight protocol is based on a federal training program. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the three-tiered process is the best way to survive a shooting incident.
The first line of defense is to run. The training encourages participants to have escape routes planned from their home/school/workplace, to leave belongings behind and to keep their hands visible.
If escape is not possible, the training encourages hiding as the next best option. Find an area out of the shooter’s view, barricade or block the entrance and silence devices like cell phones.
The training describes fighting as “a last resort and only when your life is in imminent danger.”
Almada said the Santa Monica training talks about improvising weapons from what is at hand and utilizing strength-in-numbers.
“If you’re absolutely back to the wall, you can’t get away, your trapped and the bad guy’s coming for you, we talk about options and strategies to defend yourself,” he said.
Almada reiterated the idea that active shooters do not stop until they are forcefully stopped.
“If you’re confronted with an active shooter, it’s not time to sweet talk them, not a time to adopt a negotiated strategy,” he said.
While the OEM training talks about what to do if a shooting occurs, Almada said the main focus is on prevention, particularly in the workplace. He said most participants find the training “eye-opening” but also comforting because the education components explains how rare actual violence is.
“We face conflict in the workplace all the time,” he said. “The training is deescalating conflicts in the workplace to make sure we don’t have violence in the workplace. That gives them options so they don’t get to that point, because no one wants to get to the position of a life and death struggle.”
Additional reporting by Lisa Leff, Associated Press