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USF offers training on what to do in a campus shooting

TAMPA — Back to school this fall means more than just welcoming a new class of freshmen at the University of South Florida.

It also means thinking about what to do if someone starts shooting on campus.

Since April, university officials have conducted 28 "active shooter" training sessions for about 700 USF administrators, staffers, faculty members and students.

The training — thought to be a first at USF — includes:

• Advice on recognizing gunshots (they don't sound like on television).

• The importance of having a "survival mind-set."

• The need to have a plan to get out, hide out or, as a last resort, take out the shooter.

Such training has become more common nationwide since 2007, when a student at Virginia Tech murdered 32 people before killing himself.

"The chances of this happening are minuscule, but I think it's the thing that people fear the most in a workplace or on campus," USF assistant vice president for public safety Alana Ennis told about 50 employees this week.

The centerpiece of the training is a 20-minute video, Shots Fired on Campus, that starts with two gunshots. When people hear them, they flinch.

"It definitely gets your attention," said USF student body vice president Spencer Montgomery, who saw the video in the spring.

The video is a product of the Center for Personal Protection & Safety, a Spokane, Wash., company founded by former employees of the FBI, Defense Department and State Department. Its clients include more than a third of Fortune 100 corporations and more than 900 colleges and universities, including the University of Florida and Florida State University.

"It's been highly successful and very well received," said Bill Grey, emergency management coordinator at St. Petersburg College, where about 400 people have seen Shots Fired on Campus in the past two years.

While everyone will be anxious if they hear shots, research shows that people who are trained on what to do in such a crisis react more effectively than those who aren't, said Roger Aldrich, the company's director of training.

"It goes back, oh, 50-plus years and has been revalidated along the way," said Aldrich, who formerly ran captivity survival training programs for the Defense Department. "You can teach resilience, you can teach survival to people by giving them information."

The video tells viewers to react immediately if they hear shots. Those who don't face up to the reality of what's going on can fall into denial and helplessness. Know how to get out of a building. And be ready to make life-or-death decisions about whether to run or to stay put and try to hide.

It also says what to do if you cannot get away and are in a room that the shooter might enter: Spread out. You'll be harder to shoot if you're not bunched together. Talk quietly about a plan for if the attacker comes in. Throw things — books, backpacks, whatever's at hand — yell, and swarm the shooter from different angles.

Just as important, according to the training, is not to be mistaken for the shooter when police arrive. Officers are trained that hands kill, so they look at people's hands first. Don't point or make sudden movements. Raise your hands, fingers apart.

"It made you think," said Montgomery, 22, a senior majoring in communication. "When you're trying to engage students, having that intense video is definitely a beneficial thing."

In recent years, USF also has prepared for such crises by installing a campuswide siren system and setting up e-mail alerts to about 66,000 people.

The university's thinking also was shaped by a bomb hoax that paralyzed the Tampa campus for three hours in October.

USF officials have decided not to try to lock down the entire campus in similar emergencies in the future. It's too big, it creates too much confusion, and some people seeking shelter in buildings are denied entry. But police will secure the building where they suspect a shooter is.

In response to complaints that not everyone received the text-message alerts during the bomb scare, USF has applied for a grant to buy message boards that can be mounted in classrooms with poor cell phone reception.

While the active shooter training is not mandatory, the video is available online for those with a USF log-in and password. Campus public safety officials plan to offer more sessions after the fall semester starts later this month.

Fast facts

Some warning signs

USF's students of concern assistance team includes representatives from student affairs, the USF police, counseling center, housing office and student health services.

Referrals about students with worrisome behaviors can be made by calling the team's case manager at (813) 974-6130, or by filling out an online referral at For urgent, serious concerns, call the university police at (813) 974-2628.

Here are some behaviors of concern:

• Deterioration in the quality or quantity of work, drop in grades, missed assignments or exams, repeated absences, disorganized or erratic academic performance.

• Decline in enthusiasm in class, dramatic changes in energy levels, exaggerated personality traits (someone becoming more withdrawn or more animated than usual).

• Frequent, lengthy, ranting or threatening communications to instructor.

• Continuous requests for special consideration to turn in papers and projects late or to postpone exams.

• Worrisome changes in hygiene or personal appearance or significant changes in weight.

• Falling asleep in class or at other inopportune times.

• Frequent signs of alcohol intoxication.

• Cuts, burns or bruises.

• Inappropriate emotional outbursts such as unprovoked anger or hostility, sobbing.

• Expressions of hopelessness, fear or worthlessness; themes of suicide, death and dying, or threats of violence in papers or projects.

On the Web

Watch a 2-minute trailer of the training video Shots Fired on Campus at

USF offers training on what to do in a campus shooting 08/13/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 13, 2010 11:48pm]
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