The University of Utah community mourns with the families, friends and loved ones of the victims of the horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Senseless acts of violence occur all too frequently in our country, including on college campuses. In the aftermath of this tragedy, many rightly asked how prepared we were to handle a similar situation on our campus.
Campus safety is a top priority and requires a constant and vigilant effort from all of us. To provide insight into our efforts to prepare for the unthinkable, Chief Security Officer Keith Squires answers some of the questions we’ve received from groups across campus.
Campus Security Q&A with Chief Security Officer Keith Squires
Is the University of Utah ready to handle an active shooter on campus?
As the Department of Public Safety charged with protecting students, faculty, staff and visitors to our campus, incidents like what we saw unfold in Texas are stark reminders of the magnitude of our responsibility and the importance of preparing for similar incidents.
When I first took on my current role, and with the high turnover rate in both University Security and University Police, we prioritized preparedness. of an active shooter incident and conducted extensive planning, training and drills at the Park Building through July 2021.
Attendees included representatives from all divisions of U Safety: Police, Campus Safety, U of U Health Safety, Victim Advocates, Emergency Communications (Dispatch), and Emergency Management. Support was provided by the President’s Office and other campus departments.
How did the active fire exercise help the university’s security department prepare for an incident?
Since the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999, training for dealing with an active assailant on campus has evolved and those practices differ from how the situation at Uvalde appears to have unfolded. In an active aggressor situation, one or more suspects open fire randomly or systematically with the intention of injuring others. Usually this is done for the purpose of inflicting grievous bodily harm or death, rather than committing other criminal acts.
We learned a lot from the 2021 exercise on campus which helps us to further develop our response and protection efforts. University police officers continue to receive related training. While it’s impossible to be over-prepared, our staff are highly trained and equipped to coordinate a quick and efficient response should we face a similar situation. Our officers pledge to immediately engage in apprehending armed attackers on campus.
Some important achievements and highlights of the July 2021 exercises:
- The exercises were the first major exercise on campus to use police body cameras. The images are used to improve officer training and response capabilities.
- The response time from when officers first entered the building to when the “shooter” was in custody was two minutes.
- A unique display map with 3D space layout images, called the Common Operating Picture, was developed specifically for the Park Building prior to the exercise and was critical to the effectiveness of the police response. This indoor mapping technology will be used when we perform planning and training exercises in other buildings and spaces.
What do you want students, faculty and staff to know about the police response to these situations?
Responding effectively to an active aggressor situation is a challenge for well-trained police and security personnel. Students, faculty, and staff can play an important role in helping law enforcement save lives as we make critical decisions and put our training into action during a response.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- In a high-stakes situation like this, our security personnel are trained to immediately go to the area where gunfire was last heard in order to stop the firing as quickly as possible. Officers may belong to different law enforcement agencies and wear different uniforms or plainclothes and wear bulletproof vests. Coordination between different agencies is essential to the response.
- Regardless of how the agents appear, stay calm. Do as the officers tell you and don’t be afraid of them. Put down any bags or packages you are carrying and keep your hands visible at all times.
- If you know where the shooter is or if you know the description of the shooter, tell the officers.
- The first officers to arrive will go directly to arrest the shooter and will not be able to rescue the wounded. Rescue teams will follow shortly after the first responders enter the area. They will attend to the injured and evacuate everyone to safety.
- Keep in mind that once you escape to a safer location, the whole area is still a crime scene. The police will generally not let anyone leave until the situation is under control and witnesses have been identified. Until you are released, stay at the assembly point designated by the authorities.
Where have public safety teams conducted active aggressor drills on campus?
Our enhanced 2021 training and drills were held in the park building and became a model to guide other staff working in academic buildings on campus. The Park Building was chosen as the training ground because of its recognized importance and to provide an opportunity for university leaders to get involved.
We wanted to ensure that the training was more than theoretical and that the security personnel treated the exercise as a real incident. We were able to use mapping technology to provide information that will help response teams navigate the building. We have also ensured that lines of communication are in place between University Police, the Salt Lake City Police Department, other agencies that may be involved, and dispatchers. Additionally, we were able to work with administrators and campus staff to help them better understand potential threats and their roles during an incident.
Will other areas of campus have the opportunity to prepare with active aggressor drills?
The more we prepare and practice, the better our response will be if the situation arises. The University Security Department is committed to conducting similar training across campus and we encourage college deans and department heads to make planning an exercise in their buildings a priority in the coming months. Those wishing to schedule our active aggressor assessment and training for their staff and buildings may do so by contacting University Security at 801-213-1090 or https://emergency.utah.edu/request-a-training/