University Police: Think 'run, hide, fight' when facing an active shooter

By Ariana Assaf, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 22, 2013

The nation was on heightened alert this past week after a major bombing occurred at the Boston Marathon. The FBI’s two suspects in the incident led police on a chaotic chase that shut down the greater Boston area and left a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology dead after he was ambushed by the suspects.

The incident took place across the nation, but as shown by an incident Valentine's Day where a student wearing camouflage pants and a gas mask scared students and staff in Mason Hall, no place — not even the University — is immune to emergency situations.

On Valentine’s Day, UMPD officers followed Quick Action Deployment protocol, a law enforcement technique where first responding police officers enter a high-risk situation rather than containing a waiting for a tactical team. Though the student simply said his attire was a “joke,” students were concerned about his behavior and notified law enforcement.

The QAD protocol aims to decrease the amount of time that it takes for law enforcement officers to locate, confront and stop an active shooter. It has largely replaced the isolate-and-contain techniques that were used to respond to incidents like the Columbine High School shooting. UMPD was one of the first departments across the country to adopt Quick Action Deployment following the Columbine shooting, according to officials.

University Police Chief Joseph Piersante, the interim director of the Division of Public Safety and Security, said though UMPD officers are prepared to deal with high-risk situations like an active shooter, it is also important that students, faculty and staff know what to do if they encounter an active shooter.

The University has recently begun an emergency training program that educates students, faculty and staff to use the “run, hide, fight” concept when responding to emergency situations.

Following the concept, civilians should first attempt to flee an area under attack, if possible. If an exit route is not readily available, civilians are advised to hide or barricade themselves. As a last resort — if they are not able to run or hide — civilians should make an effort to fight and disarm the intruder.

Piersante stressed the importance of taking action to protect oneself in an active shooter situation. In active shooter situations on campuses in the past, Piersante said casualties were minimized when victims took action rather than remaining passive.

“It’s a hard decision, because most people aren’t taught to fight violently,” Piersante said. “But once (a shooter) gets into the classroom, they just systematically shoot people.”

University Police spokeswoman Diane Brown pointed out that if community members need to defend themselves, classrooms offer materials that aren’t normally seen as weapons, such as books, backpacks and computers. Throwing these materials at an attacker could potentially distract and disarm them, and possibly save lives.

Piersante added that it’s important that the public understand that, in the event of an active shooter situation, officers are instructed to bypass injured victims so they can reach a shooter fast to prevent further casualties.

While the Valentine’s Day situation didn’t escalate beyond the informal evacuation of Mason Hall, an emergency alert would have been sent out to the campus in the event that police confirmed an armed suspect.

In 2008, University Police created the Emergency Alert System to notify students, faculty and staff of emergencies or severe weather via text message, voice message and e-mail. Brown said the system is only activated when a significant portion of campus needs to take immediate action to keep themselves safe.

Emergency alerts are intended to inform the community that officers are responding to an incident, and may include instructions to avoid parts of campus that police deem unsafe. Emergency alerts are different from crime alerts, which are used to let people know that there a crime has yet to be solved and may pose a threat to the community’s safety.

When a crime alert is released, “people don’t necessarily need to take shelter or avoid a building,” Brown said.

“They need to be aware of it,” Brown said. “We have had a couple of cases that have been solved because after we issued a crime alert, we received information from students that led to the arrest of a suspect.”

While University Police officers are on the frontline of emergency response, physicians and nurses at the University of Michigan Health System also play a key part in responding to disasters.

The emergency department at University Hospital is classified as Level One Pediatric and Adult Trauma Center, meaning it is able to provide the highest level of surgical care possible to trauma patients. The hospital often receives transfer cases from hospitals throughout the region who may be dealing with trauma patients. It is also equipped with two decontamination tents that can be used in the event of a HAZMAT situation.

Marilyn Hollier, the director of Security and Entrance Services for University Hospital and Health Centers, said emergency physicians, nurses and staff frequently run drills to prepare for trauma events as well as emergencies that may occur within the hospital.

“We’re prepared for when disasters happen in the community and patients come to us,” Hollier said. “We have an internal training program for when disasters happen here.”