Over the past several years, mass shootings have become one of America’s most hot-button issues, and Clemson University is not immune to the ongoing threat.
Clemson was alerted earlier this month when CUPD responded to a potential threat at Cooper Library and Cribb Hall when a caller described seeing two people with guns, according to a letter sent by Gregory Mullen, the university’s associate vice president for public safety and chief of the police. The threat was later deemed false and a “swatting” incident, but other educational institutions have experienced the real thing this year.
First, February’s shooting at Michigan State University left three dead and five injured. Then an elementary school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee left six dead in March.
All told, there have been 172 mass shootings in 2023 per April 25, at least 13 of which occurred at schools, according to The Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as “at least four victims shot, either injured or killed, not including any shooter who may also have been killed or injured in the incident. “
Alert to mass casualty incidents across the country, Clemson University and the Clemson University Police Department take proactive measures to ensure that students, faculty, community members and police officers are informed and trained in the event that there is an active threat.
Training and learning from recent crises
Mullen and CUPD strive to be as prepared as possible by examining responses to other incidents across the country.
“Every time there’s a situation at another unit or another school, we look at it to see what they did well and what we could do differently so we can improve as well,” Mullen said in an interview with The Tiger.
The last thing Mullen or CUPD want is to have a situation like last year’s shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where it took police more than an hour to confront and kill the gunman who took 21 lives at an elementary school, according to a Texas House committee report.
Mullen stated that the same situation that happened in Uvalde “can’t happen” to his officers.
“If you get there and you hear gunshots, I don’t care what you have to do; you enter through that door. And that’s how we train our officers,” Mullen said.
To avoid such an incident, CUPD conducts realistic training exercises that simulate a real threat, often involving fake blood and other intense stimuli.
So far this year, 140 different CUPD participants have completed over 1,400 training hours, 216 of which were for an “Active Threat/Tactical Medical” training session on Feb. 21, according to CUPD’s training dashboard. The department averages about 9,000 combined hours of contact training, according to Capt. Christopher Harrington.
Mullen believes that the training has been very effective when situations have arisen.
“I’m very happy to say that our officers, none of them have hesitated to do exactly what we teach them to do, which is when you get there, you go in and assess the situation to see , what’s going on,” Mullen said.
CUPD partners with national-level training entities such as the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Harrington told The Tiger.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re very much ahead of the curve and trying to be on the cutting edge of some of these tactics and practices,” Harrington said.
The Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies also examines CUPD’s practices annually to ensure the department is following national best practices.
Using technology to coordinate response
One proactive measure CUPD has taken is deploying technology to quickly and efficiently respond to incidents.
Since arriving at Clemson in 2018, Mullen has helped establish the security operations center, which streamlines communication between officers and security specialists. The center, stacked with monitors, is staffed 24/7 and provides real-time access to over 3,000 cameras across campus. When a threat is received, the center is immediately notified. Security specialists can then pull up cameras that look at the location of the threat and communicate information to responding officers.
Fully staffed since 2020, the center is a “force multiplier” for CUPD, according to Mullen.
“They’re able to give us real-time information that really allows us to react faster and respond with better information,” Mullen elaborated. “Or they can either tell us that, ‘Hey, the information you’re getting is not true.'”
Along with the operations center, CUPD and the university installed classroom scanners earlier this year, preventing unauthorized access to classrooms. The new scanners are paired with lockout buttons that, when pressed, disable TigerOne card access to the classroom and notify public safety authorities of the shutdown. Once activated, only CUPD personnel will be able to reset the locking devices.
“We have seen time and time again that colleges and universities across the country are not immune to targeted violence, and this new technology is an improvement designed to protect members of our university community from the potential for active threats,” Mullen told The Tiger in January .
Inside the mind of a first responder
When it comes down to it, no training or drill can truly simulate a real life-threatening threat, which is why Mullen and CUPD stress the idea of getting out of the “basement” in moments of crisis.
“As a police officer, you want to go into the basement for a second every time that call comes in. Because while we train and we teach, we talk about it, when it actually happens, it’s just a different feeling,” Mullen said. “Unless you been there, unless you’ve been on the other end of the radio, or the other end of the phone, when you get a call and you say there’s a mass casualty or a mass attack situation over you, you can’t imagine how it will feel.”
Mullen is no stranger to the “basement” feel. He was police chief in Charleston when a gunman killed nine at a church in 2015.
“I think it’s a feeling of disbelief at first when you get the call. And having experienced it myself, that’s what I felt when I got the call. I couldn’t believe it,” said Mullen. “But then you automatically go back to your training. It’s like, okay, a lot of people depend on me, a lot of people, their lives and their health and well-being depend on me, and I’ve been trained to do this .”
Community outreach and education
While Mullen and Harrington are confident they are prepared for any threat, they also acknowledged that members of the community in an active situation should be educated and prepared to act themselves.
One initiative they strongly support is Stop the Bleed, a national program that provides non-medically trained individuals with information and training on the use of basic trauma care to prevent blood loss.
The officers are trained to neutralize the threat before applying medical treatment, Mullen said, but they may throw tourniquet kits while going after an attacker. With proper training, these tourniquet kits can save lives.
CUPD also has an Active Shooter Preparedness page on its website that outlines best practices for coping with an active shooter. The main principle is the “Run, Hide, Fight” model developed by the Department of Homeland Security.
To prevent a threat from getting past the first level of defense — the exterior of a building — Mullen doesn’t want people to bypass security protocols.
“Co-creating a campus that is safe, it takes everyone to do it,” Mullen said. “I can have all the technology, I can have all the training, I can have all the response and all the preparations in place, and a person who opens that door has basically bypassed every piece of preparation that I have now.”
Mullen’s message to the community is to be personally prepared and take advantage of the training opportunities offered by CUPD.
“Working together, we can make this campus so much safer than we can do alone,” Mullen added.