By Laura Walsh
As school shootings continue to increase in frequency, GGC’s Office of Public Safety is working to prepare students in the unlikely event that they are encountered with an active shooter on campus or in any other location.
The active threat and active shooter preparation sessions kicked off on October 13 and will be hosted on various dates until the final session on November 18. Students and faculty are strongly encouraged to attend one of the sessions.
“These are classes that we’ve had before, but we’re really pushing them and advertising them now,” said Carlton “Buck” Buchanan, Director of Emergency Management.
Captain Michael A. Irizarry was the officer on duty for the training session. Irizarry has been with GGC for about six years, has been a police officer for just over twenty years, and has spent the last ten years studying active shooting situations. Irizarry has gone through various trainings and is an active threat instructor for the police department.
“Columbine was a big game changer for us. Used to be that we set up a perimeter and didn’t let anyone in, now it’s the first officer that shows up goes in,” said Irizarry. So many people were killed in the shooting before the assailants committed suicide that the police realized that they needed to update their protocol in order to protect more victims.
“Virginia Tech was another learned lesson with the doors locked and chained,” said Irizarry. He explained that it is best to focus on active threat because you have to plan, prepare, and react to whatever situation arises.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a conﬁned and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use ﬁrearm(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.” Although there is no clear pattern, Irizarry explained that there is generally a target but others along the way are just victims of opportunity.
A comprehensive video was shown at the beginning of the session in order to introduce the audience to the need to plan, prepare, and react. The video included expert testimony from various officers and emergency personnel within the University System of Georgia. The video featured various student actors from the University of Georgia, recognizable from their UGA patrol cars.
In an active shooter situation, the gunman kills quickly and doesn’t slow down, so students must be prepared for the worst-case scenarios. The more students learn about handling emergencies, the more likely they are to respond appropriately to the circumstance.
Tips like turning over furniture, developing attack plans and wearing a backpack full of books on your front were explained in the video. The various officers all reiterated the need to call the police at the first opportunity, and many stressed the importance of calling campus police before 911. The phone number for campus police is 678-407-5333 and students and staff are encouraged to program the number in their phones for quick access.
“Active shooter situations are generally over within ten to fifteen minutes,” said Irizarry. While a 911 dispatcher will alert the campus police, response times will be quicker if the campus police are alerted first and can deploy immediately. They know the layout of the buildings and will be able to find the shooter and victims faster than an outside police officer.
The officers urged the audience to know their surroundings and pay attention to exits in every place they go. Knowing the exits and layout allows you to have a preliminary plan. Always be ready for the worst so that you will be prepared to react to the particular threat you are faced with.
“Not a lot of people did things like this in highschool and I wanted to learn more about Public Safety and what to do in an emergency situation,” said Robert Connor, 19. Connor is a freshman majoring in Digital Media who felt that he learned important information from the training.
“Mentality of the prey has to go, you [should] become the predator,” said Irizarry, “don’t let that person dictate whether you’re going to die or not.”
“None of us really knows how we’re going to react with a gun pointing right at us,” said Buchanan, “but if you think about it and really prepare yourself then hopefully you’ll act, that’s what we’re trying to preach here.”