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WMPD hosts first active shooter situation session

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February 9, 2016

1:03 AM

What is the right thing to do in an active shooter situation? The College of William and Mary Police Department is trying to answer that question with a series of active shooter training sessions for faculty, staff and students. The open sessions began in early February. The College’s sessions come alongside hundreds of similar events taking place across the country — not just at colleges and universities, but also in workplaces and other communities.

“We know that these kinds of situations can occur not just at schools, but they can occur at shopping malls, we’ve seen movie theaters — these are incidents that are happening across the country,” William and Mary police department chief Deborah Cheesebro said. “What we’re going to go over will apply no matter where you are.”

“The community itself sees a lot,” Palencia said. “It’s hard for me to say ‘this is the blanket active shooter plan.’ It depends on where you are.”

WMPD Patrol Lieutenant Israel Palencia presented for most of the first student session, held Feb. 3, which started with a trigger warning about the violent topics to be discussed as well as for gunshots heard in a simulation video. Palencia began with the definition of an active shooter.

“An active shooter event is not two roommates who get in a fight,” Palencia said. “It’s not domestic violence, not a party where a person brandishes a gun — these are crimes, but not an active shooter.”

The Department of Homeland Security defines an active shooter as an event in which an individual is actively killing or trying to kill people in an enclosed and populated area. Palencia said the training also applies to a situation involving any other type of weapon, such as a knife.

He delved into statistics related to these shooting events — that they have occurred every day but Saturday, and that between 2000 and 2013, 12 of the 160 events were at some form of college or university. One theme that Palencia repeated is that if a person hears something worrying, they should say something.

“The community itself sees a lot,” Palencia said. “It’s hard for me to say ‘this is the blanket active shooter plan.’ It depends on where you are.”

Palencia emphasized the importance of the survivor mentality: the idea that no matter what happens, a person will do what is necessary to survive, whether that means running, hiding or fighting.

He presented the three options in order of best option first: Run. If possible, people should get out of the area and call 911 immediately. If exit is not an option, hiding is the next best choice, and if you can’t hide, prepare to fight.

“I saw this in Student Happenings and figured that I would much rather be safe than sorry taking an hour out of my day now to study up on what to do rather than having to potentially pay for that later,” Irby said.

He discussed hard versus soft targets. He said shooters don’t tend to blast through walls or try hard to get through locked or blocked doors; they look for the easy target, the open door. One of the first actions of hiding should be barricading the door to wherever you are.

In addition to discussing what students should do if faced with this situation, he told the crowd what to expect of police officers. He said that their first job is to take down the shooter and that they won’t stop to help any wounded or to help anyone escape.

The first student session featured the shorter of two versions of training.

Five community members sat in on the hour-long training.

WMPD Chief Deborah Cheesebro said that she expects the next student trainings to be more heavily attended; there are at least four more planned with two next Monday, Feb. 15. James Irby ’19 was one of the students who attended the first open session.

“I saw this in Student Happenings and figured that I would much rather be safe than sorry taking an hour out of my day now to study up on what to do rather than having to potentially pay for that later,” Irby said.

Individual departments across campus can also request training specific to their locations. Departments that have received training since Jan. 12 include Earl Gregg Swem Library, Mason School of Business and Residence Life.

According to Palencia, the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services has an initiative in place for officers in police departments across the state to become ALERRT trained to create a uniform response if faced with an active shooter event. Nearly all officers within WMPD are ALERRT trained; WMPD Sergeant James Baez-An is an advanced ALERRT instructor and runs trainings out of the College’s Dillard Complex.

Cheesebro said the department is looking into integrated training opportunities with the Williamsburg and James City County police departments, so that if faced with this kind of event on campus, the departments will be able to respond in a coordinated and efficient manner.

“It is, and will continue to be, a coordinated, preplanned response with all agencies being trained the same way and all knowing the procedure for William and Mary,” Cheesebro said. “What we’re trying to do is to continue to do things for the safety of this community, and so this is where we are now. We’ll continue and we will stay where we need to stay in terms of training and education, and if the standard changes, we’ll change with it.”

While the open sessions are optional, some of the training has been integrated into orientation for new students on campus beginning with the most recent spring 2016 entrants.

 

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Amanda Williams

Senior Staff Writer Amanda Williams '16 is an economics major from Denver, Colorado. She has previously been Chief Staff Writer, News Editor and Chief Copy Editor.