STORY BY SAM FATHALLAH
Think back to the first week of school. First year students are getting settled in to residence life and students are getting to know their schedules.
Now imagine that in the mean time, there is an active shooter on campus.
Though this has never happened at Drake University, this was a reality for students at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon on Oct. 1, when a gunman opened fire in a classroom.
This shooting is just one example in a bout of campus shootings that have happened in the past several years.
These shootings also come after a year of increasing gun violence across the country, and have left some Drake students worried about their safety.
Sophomore Alyssa LaTragna heard the news of the event during class.
“My professor brought it up. She was talking about how it was the first week of school in Oregon,” LaTragna said. “Imagine coming to Drake, you’re excited, you’ve just finished Welcome Weekend and then this happens.”
After the shooting in Oregon, LaTragna said she was more afraid of the helplessness and uncertainty of an incident like this.
“There’s an underlying fear you have after an event like that,” LaTragna said. “It’s a reality. It’s something that could happen. There’s no way to know until it happens, which is terrifying.”
LaTragna is not alone in her concerns.
Kevin Maisto, student body president, said that the frequency of these shootings has made students numb to these kinds of situations.
“It freaks me out a little bit, that is a very serious thing,” Maisto said. “We’re becoming desensitized to it to a certain extent.”
For both LaTragna and Maisto, all of these concerns culminated in an inquiry into the active shooter policy that is in place at Drake.
“Public Safety officers do not carry firearms,” Maisto said. “Are they the ones who respond to a shooter? Do they go to the Des Moines Police first? I don’t really know.”
Active shooter situations are spontaneous and difficult to plan for.
As the director of Drake Public Safety, this makes Scott Law’s job even harder.
“Everyone would like a set plan with a list of steps. Unfortunately, we all know that that’s not the reality of the situation,” Law said. “You have to deal with the situations as they develop.”
For most situations, however, Law says that Drake does have an emergency procedure. It’s an approach developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Here at Drake, the system we use is the run, hide and fight system,” Law said. “First step is to run. If you can’t run, then hide. If the guy gets in, then fight him.”
If there were an active shooter on campus, students would find out from a timely Bulldog Alert.
As for the role of Public Safety in an active shooter situation, Law said he and his officers can only do so much.
“The fact of the matter is, an active shooter is only stopped when the shooter is engaged by someone with a firearm,” Law said.
Although this is often the case, not all shootings end by firearm. This still is an issue for Public Safety, though.
“Public Safety is an unarmed force,” Law said. “We’d be dependent on the Des Moines Police Department, with whom we have an incredible relationship. There’s always a police officer in the area.”
All of this information may come as a surprise to many students and faculty who have not researched the procedures in place at Drake, including Maisto.
“The first thing I would propose is having mandatory training for professors,” Maisto said. “Honestly, I’m a little alarmed that doesn’t exist already.”
Law said he has given seminars on active shooter procedures to a few colleges around campus, but he hopes to roll out a more comprehensive program in the future.
“We’d love to offer short sessions that any student can attend,” Law said. “We could even do an actual on-campus drill where people go through what happens and they can respond to them.”
Law and his team have even put together an informative film that outlines the procedure, which is set to hit computer screens in the near future.
“We’ve done a video of my emergency management system,” Law said. “What we want to do is roll that out to the whole faculty and staff. We’re working with human resources and we expect that to happen soon.”