In the first of a two-part report, KXJZ News examines how “active shooter” incidents have changed people’s lives. We listen in on a workshop at UC Davis designed to help people survive an “active shooter” scenario.
Verla Evans has worked at UC Davis for 30 years. She’s a librarian at the Carlson Health Sciences Library, one of the busiest spots on campus.
"We deal with a lot of people that are angry and we deal with people that, just some of them are weird."
Evans says the library staff is already security conscious – the circulation desk is equipped with a panic button. But since Virginia Tech, there’s been even more emphasis on safety. Allison Simonette – a chemistry major – says students are also thinking about safety
"As a student, because I’d be in the library if something occurs, I was interested after Virginia Tech to see the plans they were coming up with – how our university’s dealing with it."
Simonette and librarian Verla Evans are among about 100 people attending a workshop on campus about how to react to a so-called “active shooter” scenario.
"Good afternoon everybody. Thank you for coming. I’m Annette Spicuzza, your police chief here at UC Davis."
Chief Spicuzza tells the audience they’re about to receive some of the same training her police officers get. And she says the strategies can be used not only on campus but at a mall or theater.
"This is the civilian component. This is going to give you hopefully a better awareness, a few more tools that you might be able to draw on as, God forbid, you’re ever in that type of a situation here on campus or anywhere else."
It becomes clear early on that this isn’t your typical workshop. Campus police play a recording of a 911 call made from the library at Columbine High School to illustrate how that event changed everything for law enforcement.
Operator: Okay, has anyone been injured maam?
Librarian: Yes! Yes! And the school is in a panic and I’m in the library. I’ve got students down under the tables kids! Heads down under the tables!
Before Columbine, it was standard procedure for law enforcement to wait for a SWAT team to arrive. Under the “active shooter – rapid response” procedures developed after Columbine, police move in immediately to neutralize the shooter.
Lieutenant Matt Carmichael with the UC Davis Campus Police says if you’re confronted by a gunman and you can’t escape, take cover or hide, the fourth strategy is to play dead.
"Nobody likes to talk about this. How do we play dead? Do we just fall on the ground? No! We get creative. If there’s someone dead on the ground next to you you may put a body part of theirs over yours. Does that mean you’re 100% safe? Absolutely not. But if you can’t do the first three strategies, then you’re going to play dead."
Carmichael also demonstrates how to distract a gunman with the intent of grabbing the weapon away. And he shows the audience what it looks like when a 40 caliber semi-automatic runs out of ammunition and the magazine drops – a good time he says to try and escape.
"You’re all a sitting target right now."
In Carmichael’s estimation, whenever you’re in a crowd you’re in a “target rich environment” and the first thing you should think about is how to escape.
"If I’m a bad guy and I want to shoot people I’m not going to an empty parking lot. I’m coming to a college campus. Mentally practice not being a sitting target. Who right now knows where all the exits are if someone enters back there and starts shooting in the crowd?"
Lieutenant Carmichael admits his lessons are unsettling but he believes what he’s teaching is sensible advice.
"And who would’ve thought we’re going to sit this afternoon, lunchtime, spending our time talking about what to do if someone’s shooting at you but that’s where we’re at unfortunately in society today."
After the workshop, librarian Verla Evans gathers her notes and gets ready to leave. When asked what she thought of the often unsettling subject matter she says much of it was informative. And she found one section in particular very useful.
"I’m not a person that likes guns but just to actually see an officer demonstrating how to protect yourself kind of gives me a little bit of visual understand."
An “active shooter” scenario isn’t just a possibility at UC Davis, it actually happened. In 2004 a man brandishing a gun near the Student Housing office shot at campus police. Officers returned fire and the suspect died at the scene. Lieutenant Matt Carmichael says campus police and the community dodged a bullet that night.
"I think we forget a little bit that we came pretty close. Who knows what that potential was?"
UC Davis officials plan to hold a mock “active shooter” scenario later this year.