University students and faculty reflect on shooter preparedness and prevention, following Parkland shooting
LSA freshman Annika Mursten was a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year. Mursten never expected her high school would be the site of a national tragedy. She recalled participating in various safety drills throughout her years as a high school student.
“I feel like a lot of what people don’t understand is the high school was very safe,” Mursten said. “We always had drills. I remember in my four years, we always had drills.”
According to Everytown for Gun Safety Fund — an organization that supports gun control and collects data on gun violence — there have already been 18 school shootings in the U.S. this year. Everytown defines a “school shooting” as any incident where there are “public reports that a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds.”
Last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl. marked the 18th school shooting in the country and has students and faculty at the University of Michigan asking questions about the University’s own preparedness in the event of a similar emergency.
In the Parkland attack — which claimed 17 lives — former student Nikolas Cruz pulled a fire alarm at the school and then pulled out an AR-15 rifle to gun down students and faculty as they were evacuating.
At the University, false rumors of an active shooter frightened students campus after an armed robbery in West Quad Residence Hall in early December. While this incident may have been a false alarm, Wednesday’s events in Florida have added to national and local discussion about gun violence and campus preparedness.
For University students, the discussion has turned to how faculty and staff are prepared to handle such emergencies and what can be done to prevent incidents like the shooting in Florida.
Robert Neumann, University chief of police, confirmed faculty and staff are offered optional safety and security training, which consists of an hour-long presentation. However, Neumann stated some departments require faculty to attend the Division of Public Safety and Security’s safety training, and emphasized the presentation remains a popular program among faculty that DPSS holds actively throughout the year.
“Our community outreach unit does ongoing active shooter training for faculty, staff and students,” Neumann said. “It is a combination of a presentation — it’s interactive — and a question and answer session.”
First year students are required to attend an abbreviated version of the safety training session faculty and staff receive during their orientation. Neumann emphasized DPSS officers are trained to respond rapidly to emergencies, saying time is especially valuable when dealing with an active shooter situation.
“We emphasize in our training being ready to immediately respond in the event of an active attacker,” Neumann said. “Once it’s understood there’s an active attacker in progress, or an active attack in progress, time and seconds are critical.”
Mursten stated the DPSS safety videos freshman are shown during orientation were very informative, but while it is important to know what to do in an emergency, she is unsure if a student or faculty member can truly prepare themselves in the event of an actual active shooter attack.
“It was a really good; it was pretty graphic, but I thought the video was very good,” Mursten said of the training video. “I think that’s something everyone should see, but I think at the same time, no one thinks it’s going to happen to them or their school or the classroom there. So there’s so much ‘How can you prepare for that?’ Because the teachers were doing everything they could.”
A resident adviser in a University student dormitory, who has requested to remain anonymous for contractual reasons, said while she watched safety videos for training to become an RA, she does not think she is prepared to handle a situation involving an active shooter.
“I think because they have a video where they have a situation of an active shooter, I hope I would know what to do,” she said. “I think no one’s ever ready for that, to be honest. No matter what they tell us to do, or what they tell us could happen, I don’t think anyone is prepared for that, but they’re doing what they can.”
Another RA, who also requested to remain anonymous, confirmed he too received safety training from DPSS to become an RA, but stated he thinks more can be done to prevent active shooter attacks.
“Without getting too political, more certainly can be done in terms of preventing active shooter situations, be it in terms of gun control and resources and outreach for those who are mentally unstable and pose a threat to those around them,” he said.
According to a 2016 U.S. Government Accountability Office report, 40 states, including Florida, require public schools to practice emergency drills. On the website for the School Board of Broward County, Florida — the county where Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located — all schools in Broward County participate in an Emergency Preparedness Program. Donna Korn, a Broward County School Board member, confirmed in an USA Today article Marjory Stoneman Douglas High was subject to the same regulations and had undergone various exercises for active shooter training.
Despite drills and exercises that seek to educate students and faculty about what to do in case of an emergency, members of the University community are expressing concerns there may not be enough being done in terms of prevention.
In the state of Michigan, residents must obtain a purchase license to buy a pistol or firearm, according to the Michigan State Police. To obtain a purchase license, potential purchasers must undergo a background check and be eligible to own firearms, meaning the individual is not precluded from owning any firearms due to mental health or criminal history. Marianthi Hatzigeorgiou, President of the University’s Health Policy Student Association and a Public Health student, said gun violence is a public health crisis and more should be done to ensure gun safety.
“We believe that every American wants to keep citizens and school children safe in the interest of community health,” Hatzigeorgiou wrote in an email interview. “In order to do so, there needs to be more safety surrounding the use and ownership of firearms."
Last November, members of HPSA held a panel with University experts to discuss gun policy at state and federal levels and ways to prevent gun violence. In March, the HPSA students who attended the panel will be traveling to the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing to urge state legislators to take action through extreme protection measures. These policies include a temporarily suspension of an individual’s access to guns under certain circumstances and child-access prevention, which deals with the safe storage of firearms and keeping guns out of the reach of children.
“These measures keep guns out of the hands of individuals who could intentionally or accidentally hurt others,” Hatzigeorgiou wrote.
Marc Zimmerman, professor of public health and director of the Prevention Research Center of Michigan, which seeks to promote health and safety through research on public health issues, agreed there should be greater restrictions on who can purchase firearms and what kind of firearms are available for purchase for the regular citizen.
“There is no reason that a citizen of the United States needs to own an automatic weapon,” Zimmerman said. “I’m not saying we should limit the number of guns, but there just needs to be a little bit more attention to gun safety and what our gun needs are. There are ways to make guns safer, that’s what I’m really talking about.”
According to Zimmerman, legislators need to have a genuine and objective discussion that will look at current gun laws and gun violence to produce impactful legislation that actually will make a difference. Despite previous school shootings, Zimmerman said he was disappointed the media seems to forget about these tragedies until the next one, and no legislation is implemented to prevent these acts from happening again.
“We have to have a commitment in our society to say ‘enough is enough,’” Zimmerman said. “Every time one of these events happens, we all get up in arms — the media comes and calls and talks to people, but it disappears again.”
For University students, DPSS promotes the “Run, Hide, Fight” model in the case of an active attacker. On the DPSS website, there are videos and a list of tips on how to deal with various emergency situations. According to Zimmerman, however, these safety tips may not be doing enough to deal with prevention.
Zimmerman cites reporting warning signs of mental health issues as crucial in preventing tragedies like these. In the case of the Florida shooting, Cruz had several documented warning signs, including being prohibited from carrying a backpack on school grounds at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, numerous school suspensions and police reports filed on concerns about his “erratic behavior” and gun possession. While Zimmerman emphasizes a distinction between mental health and violence, he believes prevention of school shootings will include having mental health resources to detect warning signs and act appropriately once alerted.
“Something that needs to be clear is people conflate mental health with violence,” Zimmerman said. “Having said that, clearly, we need our young people, and people in general, we need more mental health services. We need to pay attention to the fact that mental health affects our lives in important ways and we need more resources to address the mental health issues that people are facing.”
While Mursten says she wants to see more awareness of mental health issues in the future, for now she sees recovery for the families and community of Parkland, Florida as the main priority.
“The biggest thing I want to see is people supporting the families,” Mursten said. “For me right now, I don’t think this should be viewed as a political statement or a way for people to push a certain political agenda.”