WASHINGTON – She was away on personal business that October morning when she learned about the gunman who terrorized Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. Vanessa Becker, chair of the board of trustees at Umpqua, immediately got in her car and drove the 3½ back to campus.
On Oct. 1, an Umpqua student opened fire on campus, killing nine people and wounding seven. The gunman committed suicide.
It was one of 31 incidents in which a gun was fired on a college or university campus last year, according to the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. Becker was part of a panel discussion Tuesday that addressed how colleges can prepare for these types of situations. The panel was part of the 2016 Community College National Legislative Summit at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
“It affects everyone. It doesn’t just affect the students,” Becker said. “It is really important to remember this is not just a crime – it is not just an incident. It really hits deep and it hits everybody.”
Becker outlined three major points to help campuses deal with a shooting more effectively, starting with establishing steady relationships with institutions that provide aid. Knowing community leaders and individuals such as law enforcement officials, including sheriffs and district attorneys is important.
Knowing how to deal with trauma was the second point on Becker’s list. Although every person reacts differently, Becker said everybody experiences trauma after going through an event like the one at Umpqua. Working with institutions outside of academics, such as victims’ assistance offices, is important.
“There’s many institutions and sectors that go into their work expecting that they will see some trauma,” Becker said. “Academics don’t go into academia expecting to see this kind of ugliness.”
Incident management teams are trained to deal with emergencies like that of an active shooter. Andre Le Duc, associate vice president at the University of Oregon, and his team played a key role in helping the Roseburg community.
The team’s purpose is to evaluate and guide the community through the process of recovering from a traumatic experience.
“We are not there to take over,” Le Duc said. “What we do is we come in and support the leadership team that exists. … All it is, is strategic planning on steroids.”
These teams, made up of 10 to 20 trained personnel, also serve as the intermediary between victims and law-enforcement officials. The processes and timelines of law enforcement may be unfamiliar to civilians, and incident management teams help bridge that information gap.
“Not every campus needs to have an incident management team,” Le Duc said. “But every state does need to have incident management teams that can respond to everything from flood, earthquake to active shooter scenarios.”
Finally, Becker emphasized the importance of having a plan to deal with media attention. She said campuses may be used to dealing with local news media, but a different response is necessary when something attracts national attention and media helicopters arrive.
She still wonders how CNN’s Wolf Blitzer got her phone number. Just 20 minutes after she learned of the shooting, Blitzer called her.
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