Everyone needs to prepare for active threats
Almost since the country’s inception, schools in the U.S. have been a target for violence. But given the uptick of schoolyard attacks in recent years, most notably the Parkland, Florida shooting in February 2018, there’s no better time than now for students to learn how to prepare should the unthinkable happen.
At Chemeketa, the first line of defense against active threats on campus is Public Safety, headed by Director Bill Kohlmeyer, a 30-year veteran of the Salem Police Department. Once called active shooter events, the terminology changed to include other types of dangerous activity, such as trespassing or the use of different weapons on campus.
“We call them active threats because it’s not always about guns,” said Kohlmeyer. “There was an incident in New York not too long ago where a guy used a truck, and there’s been several examples of people using vehicles…anything they can to do the damage.”
Nationwide events like these have inspired the college to consider alternative safety precautions. Chemeketa has already set up removable barricades around the quad and there are plans to add more between Buildings 1 and 9, places on campus where large groups of people are most vulnerable.
After the shooting at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 2007, Chemeketa also took action regarding classroom door locks and door handles throughout the school. Like many schools in the U.S, Chemeketa’s door locks were identical to those at Virginia Tech. The doors could only be locked and unlocked from the outside by using a key. Public Safety realized that if a mass shooting happened at Chemeketa, it would make it difficult for teachers to quickly seal off their classrooms.
“I’ve been training for emergencies my whole life, and if there was gunfire out there, I’d be hard-pressed to figure out which key to get in the door to get it locked,” said Kohlmeyer.
Though the transition was expensive, the college installed new equipment called storage function locks, which make it so the doors are always locked from the inside. This may be annoying to some students who arrive late and the teacher has already shut the door, but Kohlmeyer believes it can and will save lives.
“If anything happened, all they’d have to do was pull the door closed and it’s locked. You don’t have to look for keys like that.”
We used to tell people, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s a police matter, just wait to be rescued.’ That is not the message anymore.
The actions of the gunman at Virginia Tech also led to changes in Chemeketa’s door handles. Traditional full loop handles on double doors allowed the attacker to chain them shut, locking victims inside and law enforcement out. To combat this issue, Mike Morrelli from Facilities proposed removing the handle from door on the left. Since people instinctively reach to their right, Morrelli believed that two handles were unnecessary. As of now, many of the left-side handles have been removed, an action that has also aided the flow of traffic.
According to Kohlmeyer, however, even with all the precautions Chemeketa has taken to secure the campus, an individual’s survival during an active threat rests mostly on their shoulders.
“We’re all responsible for our own safety,” Kohlmeyer said. “We [police officers] used to tell people ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s a police matter, just wait to be rescued.’ That is not the message anymore. The message now is ‘Every one of us is responsible for our own personal survival and thinking about our own personal safety.’”
One way people can protect themselves is by being aware of their surroundings.
“When you’re walking around day-to-day, or from class to class, take some time and think about what I would do and where would I go if something happened right now,” he said.
Another thing students can do is become familiar with the tools that are already at their disposal. For instance, every classroom in the college is marked with the room and building number, either in letters above the doorway or on blue sheets of paper attached to the door. This is in case students or staff forget where they are during an emergency. The windows facing outside also have the same identification to help law enforcement and first responders differentiate the buildings and rooms.
Additionally, the college has modified their lockdown system to allow public access to its 36 emergency buttons. Distributed throughout the campus, mostly in in office areas, these lockdown buttons are similar to fire alarms, except they make no noise when pressed.
“If you were to see something develop out in the parking lot, then you could lock that building down yourself without calling anybody. The whole idea is to speed that process up,” said Kohlmeyer.
But help is not always a phone call or a button push away.
“I think the biggest mistake that people make is that they don’t realize how fast these things happen, and how little time they’re going to have,” said Kohlmeyer. “We’re going to send those messages out, but…don’t make life and death decisions waiting for a message because it won’t be timely.”
For tips on what to do during situations that require immediate action, Kohlmeyer recommends watching the short video “Run, Hide, Fight.”
“The main message is: Get away if you can get away,” Kohlmeyer said. “But this is a big place. It’s important to run with purpose. Don’t just run. Know where you’re running to and what you’re running from.”
Escape, in some cases, may not be possible, however. There may be times when an individual is trapped and has no option but to face the attacker. “You have to make your own decision about what you’re willing to do,” Kohlmeyer said. “And it’s not without risk. There is a ton of stuff in [any] room that you can use as a weapon that people don’t necessarily think about.”
As important as it is to be prepared for the worst, Kohlmeyer also wants to remind students not to live in fear.
“Chemeketa is a very, very safe place. And my goal, and our goal here in Public Safety, is to keep it that way. And to make it a place so that you can come to school and get an education without spending a lot of time worrying about your personal safety.”
Training is available on March 14,, April 18 and May 16 for anyone who wants further instruction on what to do during an active threat. Each session takes place at 3:30 p.m. in Building 6, Room 218B on Chemeketa’s Salem campus.