Students sit in a Friday afternoon class anxiously eyeing the clock, anticipating the official beginning of spring break, while the professor unsuccessfully attempts to keep the class attention. As the professor reminds his students of the upcoming due date for a mid-term paper, a sound startles the class. The unmistakable sound of a rapid-fire weapon sends sheer terror through the room, sending everyone into a panicked suspension of fight-or-flight. Decisions must be made within fractions of a second to distinguish a victim from a survivor. During such a dynamic situation, what ultimately separates victims and a survivor is a trained mindset.
“I have honestly never thought about what I would do if a gunman was on campus. I have always felt safe because Texas Tech has not had a history of violence,” said Sarah Wilson, senior agricultural communications major.
It is a tough reality to face but school shootings do happen, and it is a situation that everyone thinks will never happen to them. This creates a mindset that most students never think about, like what he or she would do in such a chaotic situation. In most places on campus, students are in a gun-free zone and a potential gunman knows that he has a set amount of time to commit a deadly rampage before any resistance arrives on the scene.
“History has shown that once law enforcement arrives at the scene, the shooter is normally taken out quickly or commits suicide,” said Lt. Eric William, Texas Tech Police department.
Since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School and the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, Texas Tech University has improved methods to handle an active-shooter situation on campus. The man responsible for guiding the development of Texas Tech’s Active Shooter plan is Ronald Phillips, University Counsel. He also serves as the Texas Tech Emergency managment coordinator.
Phillips has a vested interest in Texas Tech, as he has three degrees from Texas Tech: a bachelor’s of science in agricultural economics (1990); a bachelor’s of science in financial planning (1991); and a Juris Doctor from Texas Tech University School of Law (1994).
In addition to his familiarity with the campus, and concern for the university’s well-being, Phillips has valuable experience with emergency management issues. Phillips said it is important to prepare for emergency situations so that the universtity can respond effectively in order to protect the university community.
“Due to recent campus shootings, many universities are developing active-shooter plans,” Phillips said.
Over the years, through talking to other universities that have had experience with a gunman on campus, Tech has formulated a new framework for how people are going to respond to an active shooter situation.
Once Texas Tech Police confirmed that shots have been fired on or near campus, they would issue a TechAleart message that would go out to every student, faculty and staff member signed up to receive it. The alert would give general information and institutions to seek shelter in a safe location.
Phillips said that “communication is absolutely crucial in this situation and Texas Tech would continue to provide timely and important information to the public.”
After Columbine, law enforcement completely changed the way they handle an active shooter.
“Columbine was the watershed moment,” Lt. Eric Williams said, a six-year veteran with the Texas Tech Police Department.
Williams is a patrol supervisor and also a firearms and tactics instructor for the Texas Tech Police Department. He trains Texas Tech officers on how to deal with active shooters, barricaded subjects, and many other tactical situations that they may run on the Texas Tech campus.
Texas Tech has 53 sworn officers and there are six to nine officers on patrol at all times. Williams explained how the law enforcement community has changed their tactics due to the events that took place at Columbine High School. It was standard protocol for patrol officers to secure the outside of the building and wait on a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team. It took an hour and a half for SWAT to arrive at the scene of the Columbine shooting after the first shots where fired. There was already a substantial amount of police officers on scene at the time, but they could not enter the building without SWAT.
Realizing that seconds count, departments all over the country no longer have to wait on SWAT to arrivebefore they can enter the building. As long as at least two officers are on the scene of an active shooting, they can pursue and eliminate the threat.
“An active shooter situation is unlike fires or tornados. Its very dynamic, things can happen anywhere,” Williams said.
With all these improvements by law enforcement and universities, Williams said he believes that a survival mind-set is still one of the best defenses. The time it takes for help to arrive after the first shots are fired could be five minutes or 30 minutes—depending on the location—so people need to be able to take care of themselves until help arrives.
Williams pointed out three rules that he tells people about at his speaking events in the Lubbock area. If a gunman is on campus, students need to either: (1) get out (2) hide out or (3) take out. If it is possible for you to get away from the threat then do so. If it is not possible to get out then hide out, make a barricade and slow the gunman down. If this is impossible, then try to take them out. Try to use anything in your surroundings as an improvised weapon to take this person out.
When asked what he would do if a gunman was on campus, Neal Barton, an agricultural communications major said, “ I would first try to figure out where the shooter was, and if I had no choice I would try to take out the gunman.”
A place of higher education should be the last place that anyone should feel that their life is threatened, and the administration of Texas Tech is doing their best to keep the students, faculty and staff safe from the unthinkable.