By McKenna Luzynski
April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 17 others at Virginia Tech before taking his own life. The Virginia Tech Massacre was the deadliest shooting in the United States committed by a single gunman. It ignited numerous movements to increase the stringency of gun laws, mental health care reform, and college security.
In an effort to ensure that a tragedy such as the one at Virginia Tech does not happen on Furman’s campus and to minimize the devastation if a gunman were to open fire on campus, the Furman University Police Department (FUPO) began teaching hour-long courses on how to respond in the event that an active shooter is reported on campus.
Before Furman hired Tom Saccenti to fill the role of Police Chief, the university did not have any protocols for active shooter reports. That changed when Saccenti arrived.
“We put five officers through the instructor program about six months ago, and we are trying to roll it out as a campus-wide effort. We put all freshman through [the active shooter preparedness course] at orientation, we’ve put the president’s cabinet through it, and we are slowly going around to each individual group,” Saccenti said.
Saccenti believes everyone on campus needs to respond to active shooter crises same way. For this reason, the course is based on the easy-to-remember acronym, “ALICE,” or “Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.”
The course itself is a very interactive program. Saccenti and the rest of FUPO believe that hands-on experience provides the best teaching tool. Thus, at the beginning of the hour, they ask all willing participants to prepare themselves to respond to a shooter in the room. A plain-clothes officer then enters the room with a BB gun and proceeds to carry out an attack.
Often, the participants try to protect themselves using the “duck and cover” approach. As Saccenti points out in his presentation, this. He explains that the best response is to follow the steps, “Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.”
According to the ALICE training website, if an active shooter is in the vicinity, victims should “use plain and specific language” to communicate that there is a threat; “barricade the room, silence mobile devices, and prepare to evacuate or counter as needed;” “communicate the shooter’s location in real time;” “create noise, movement, distance, and distraction with the intent of reducing the shooter’s ability to shoot accurately;” and “remove [themselves] from the danger zone” when it is safe to do so.
In the course prepared for the marketing department, after a second mock threat where these principles were applied, the participants felt “better” and “safer.”
Saccenti believes so strongly in the success of this program that he wants to implement it throughout the community and in other schools.
“Our officers will go out and teach anybody for free,” Saccenti said.
The takeaway lesson from this program was clear: we, as members of the Furman community, have the power to prevent another tragedy if a gunman were to attack our campus.
“If they wanted to, they would have dislocated my shoulder or broken my arm. I can tell by the way they were holding me,” Assistant FUPO Chief David Enter said after a stimulation.
“If you’re holding onto the head, where the head goes, the body follows. That’s 900 pounds of men on me. I’m not moving. I’m not going anywhere.”