After another spate of tragic shootings on American campuses, online courses about how to prepare for—and respond to—active shooters are drawing renewed interest.
In the wake of the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College—and additional slayings on campuses in Texas and Arizona in the days after—university administrators are struggling to square such events with life at their own institutions and the possibility of something similar happening.
“Every time this occurs, someone always says, ‘We can’t believe it happened here,'” said Brian Taylor, CEO and cofounder of Scenario Learning, which recently released two SafeColleges Training online courses to help colleges prepare for—and respond to—such events. “It was the first thing a number of the folks at Umpqua Community College said as they were being interviewed.”
From a statistical standpoint, their disbelief may be justified. Although reports of campus shootings often seem to dominate the news cycle, the frequency of violent incidents at colleges has not actually increased over time. Students are far more likely to die from suicide or car accidents than in an attack, according to Taylor. At the same time, “folks need to understand the gravity of the threat, because it’s a very, very significant concern,” he said. “I also don’t want to minimize the need for institutions to mitigate their liability for these kinds of events.”
SafeColleges Training’s two new courses , both of which run about 35 minutes, are aimed at distinct audiences within an institution. “Active Shooter for Administrators” focuses on why schools need to have a policy and the importance of practice and training. “We believe most schools do have a policy,” said Taylor. “The real question is: How well are they drilled on it? Your policy and procedures are only as good as your understanding, awareness, and adherence to these policies. That’s where we feel we can play a small role.”
The second course, “Active Shooter for Staff,” covers much of the same material but is geared toward a college’s faculty and staff. Like the administrator course, it’s broken into sections including an introduction, facts and history, prevention strategies, preparedness, and what to do if the unthinkable ever happens. A quiz at the end helps determine if those taking the course absorbed the materials.
“Both online courses are highly visual: Just about every slide has pictures and there’s a video vignette or two,” said Taylor. “But the courses are not designed to be the only thing staff and administrators see. They’re intended to supplement other types of training and awareness strategies across campus.”
The courses are authored by Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to campus safety. Dorn, who is considered one of the leading experts on school-shooter threats, is a proponent of what Taylor describes as an “enhanced lockdown” methodology for securing a college in the event of an attack. “Instead of having students and staff just running the hallways when there is a threat, it’s lights out, doors closed,” explained Taylor. “You hide. You don’t all cluster in one place. You spread out. You barricade the door if possible. It’s a whole series of protocols.” A third course intended for students is currently under development.
The courses are part of the SafeColleges Online Training System, which includes a repository of more than 100 safety-training courses covering issues ranging from security to transportation to employment practices. A similar web-based training system, SafeSchools Training, addresses security and safety issues in K-12 environments. The Active Shooter courses are available as part of a subscription to the SafeColleges Training System, with pricing based on a flat fee per employee. The course library is housed on an LMS platform hosted by Amazon Web Services.
Course Assignments for Staff
Employee and student data can be loaded onto the platform via LDAP or Active Directory, or even manually entered in the case of very small schools. A campus administrator can then assign individuals or groups of staff to take particular courses, and set target dates when the courses should be completed. “It exports progress reports to the appropriate administrators, who can see in real time who has done the training and—more important—who hasn’t,” said Taylor. “It will also send reminder notices to staff and students who haven’t yet completed their training. The idea is to pester them until you get 100% compliance.”
Taylor reemphasized that the courses are intended to complement a college’s own protocols, not replace them. To facilitate this approach, campus administrators can upload any of their own policies or procedures to accompany a particular course, which can then be disseminated through the LMS.
Amid all the media buzz surrounding campus shootings, the most important lesson from these courses is for institutions to make decisions grounded in solid facts. “We want colleges to have a balanced perspective because, if you’re operating only off what you hear in the media, the first instinct will be to panic,” said Taylor. “We want to give people a solid understanding of the nature of the threat, and the conditions that active shooters or assailants tend to exploit.”
Andrew Barbour is a contributing editor with eCampus News.