Since Virginia Tech, cops train students on how to escape

Mar 31 2011 - 1:37pm

About 100 students gathered in a University of California-Davis auditorium this week listening to the 911 tape of a frantic teacher calling for help as she and her students hid under desks during the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School.

Times have changed since then, campus police Lt. Matt Carmichael told the group.

Police no longer want students to hide if they're confronted by a shooter. The best choice is to escape, he told them.

And just then, the pop, pop, pop of gunfire echoed through the room. A man with an assault rifle was standing beside Carmichael on the stage, firing blanks into the crowd.

Stunned, students started to get out of their chairs. Some shouted "Run!" or "Go!" or "Move!"

Within seconds, everyone had fled to the lobby. Then, Carmichael told them to come back to their chairs.

"OK, that was impressive," he said. "In six seconds, everyone emptied this room."

Similar scenes have become eerily common at college campuses nationwide, where trainings now routinely prepare students for the possibility of being attacked by a gunman.

"Since childhood we are all taught what to do when the fire alarm goes off. But we're not taught what to do when someone comes into our environment and tries to do harm to us," Carmichael said.

UC Davis developed the training after the 2007 Virginia Tech University massacre, in which a 23-year-old student killed 32 people before turning a gun on himself.

That shooting was a turning point for campuses across the country, said Robin Hattersley Gray, executive editor of Campus Safety Magazine. Many campuses that had long practiced fire or earthquake drills began to train students in a new kind of disaster preparedness: what to do when someone pulls out a gun.

"The argument for doing it is you'll know what to do in the event of an active shooter. The argument against it is, will it make a bad situation worse?"

UC Davis police believe everyone has a better shot at survival if they learn some basic strategies. The best bet, they said, is to get away if you can. If that's impossible, take cover behind a solid barrier. Don't just hide behind a door or a wall, Carmichael told the crowd.

He brought students on stage to demonstrate how to stack chairs against a door to make it less likely for a bullet to penetrate.

A slide show illustrated different kinds of guns, while an assistant demonstrated how each one is reloaded. As the magazines dropped Carmichael said, "When you see that, that's your time to escape."

In some situations, he said, the only choice left is to attack the shooter. He brought a student up to demonstrate how to wrestle a gun away from someone while minimizing the odds of getting hurt.

Many students who attended the training are in campus organizations that required them to go.

Grant Hulegaard, 19, said he was there representing his fraternity.

"I didn't expect to learn anything, but it definitely made me think a little bit more," he said.

Hulegaard was reflecting on the escape routes he could take in each of his classrooms, and realized an English class in the basement could be hard to escape in case of emergency.

"It's a sad state of the world that we have to train now because there could be armed shooters at our school," Hulegaard said.

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