March 24, 2018

Webster University works with Webster Groves Police Department in the wake of the Florida shooting

“Run. Hide. Fight”

These three words comprise the recommended method to follow when an active shooter is in the vicinity, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This method was used by the victims and survivors of the shooting in Parkland, Fla. Feb. 14. This method is also recommended by Webster University on their crisis response page in the event of an active shooter on campus.

John Buck is the Interim Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students and studied crisis response leadership for his dissertation. He said the “Run. Hide. Fight.” method is commonly used by institutions and organizations today in the event of an active shooter. It was put in place after the Columbine massacre in 1999, in which two high school students killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High school in Colorado.

“The thinking changed after Columbine because, people died that would have survived had they entered the building quicker,” Buck said. “They were injured and bleeding and they were not getting treatment for minutes and hours and it was a horrible outcome on top of the people who were shot right out.”

Buck said the phrase “Run. Hide. Fight.” is a training tool used to train students and faculty on what to do if a an active shooter entered university grounds. He said faculty and staff are trained to respond to the crisis but spreading the information effectively is the main challenge in preparation.

Buck also said Webster cooperates with the Webster Groves Police Department (WGPD) on a regular basis. The WGPD is well-versed on the layout of the local school campuses.

Stephen Spear is the Division Patrol Commander with the WGPD. He said Webster University has a notification system, but does not receive direct training from WGPD.

However, the WGPD does train the Webster Groves School District staff. Spear said the staff goes through a four-hour cycle at each school where they would be taught the basics of “Run. Hide. Fight.” and then participate in scenarios where they apply the skills they just learned.

Spear said all of the agencies in the St. Louis metropolitan area put their officers through the Multi-Assault Counter-Terrorism Action Capabilities (MACTAC) program. Because all of the officers are trained the same way, any officer who joins the WGPD can be put into a response team. This team can make its way straight through the crisis area to the shooter.

“If there is an active shooter on campus, we no longer take the old approach of surrounding the campus and waiting for the SWAT team to come,” Spear said. “We no longer wait for a specialized team, we provide our officers the specialized training to do that very thing.”

Film and Management major Hannah Hallock survived the Overland Park Jewish Community Center shooting in 2014, in which a man associated with the Klu Klux Klan shot and killed three people at a Jewish retirement community in Overland Park, Kan. She was in the center’s gym at the time and was not aware of the shooting until after the police arrived.

She said knowing Webster and the WGPD have prepared for active shooter scenarios is reassuring because of the authorities effective response during the Overland Park scenario.

“They handled the situation well at the time, I had no idea anything had happened the entire time,” Hallock said. “I was super confused.”

Even with “Run. Hide. Fight.” and police preparations, Spear said he recommends being more aware of the surrounding environment. He said it is important to come up with back-up plans in the case of any kind of emergency.

Spear said the high use of social media and the real-time access it provides during active shooter scenario is a “powerful thing” and can be very useful if it is harnessed effectively. However, he said it tends to overcomplicate police responses as it is used now.

“Without having references or the context of where it’s coming from or who’s doing it and where they’re at, if anything it frustrates us because we are trying to locate the bad guy,” Spear said.

Buck said he doesn’t believe the use of social media will change the way special force teams respond to an active shooter crisis. One thing Buck said might change is the political and public response to these tragic events.

“Does it change the hearts and minds of people who want less thoughts and prayers and more legislation and laws?” Buck said. “Maybe [Social media] motivates people in other ways than it has in the past. Personally, for me, all you need to know about Sandy Hook is how horrible it is.”


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