Students fear the idea of a mass shooting taking place in the community in light of recent events at Michigan State University.
ISUPD is sharing its prevention and protocol training in hopes of easing students’ fears of violent acts on campus.
For some students and instructors, the recent events at Michigan State University (MSU) and the increasing number of mass shootings have caused anxiety.
“It was the first week of classes; there was someone [who] just slammed the door really loud or there was a really loud bang somewhere in Gilman,” said Ashley Macbeth, a graduate instructor in the psychology department. “I immediately thought, ‘Oh, shit, what am I going to do?'”
Mass shootings have increased significantly over the past several years. In 2014, mass shootings totaled 273, compared to 647 in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
On February 13, a gunman opened fire in two buildings at MSU. The gunman killed three students and seriously injured five. Shots were fired in Berkey Hall, a building in the College of Social Science, and the student union, a popular place for students. The suspect was found by law enforcement later that night and the threat to the community was no longer ongoing.
“Tragedies like Michigan State can happen anywhere,” Iowa State University Police Chief Michael Newton said. “No community is immune, and all communities have been affected by some form of violent activity.”
ISUPD has several methods of dealing with these kinds of events. First, they work with prevention training.
History shows that most of the people who commit mass shootings had warning signs in their past, Newton said. Part of the department’s threat assessment is to watch for consistent suspicious behavior and to help struggling individuals find mental health resources if needed.
The department usually has to rely on the university community to reach out to them if a friend, student, or staff member shows signs of distress or problematic behavior.
“Hopefully, individuals that may come forward of concern can hopefully address those concerns,” said Greg Kise, threat assessment and management coordinator. “It mitigates potential threats before it escalates into an active shooter situation.”
Kise’s position is a new addition to ISUPD. It was important for the department to have someone who understood threat assessment and had a good foundation for spotting patterns, Assistant Chief Carrie Jacobs said.
While ISUPD staff do their best to prevent acts of violence on campus, sometimes it cannot be avoided. The department ensures that they have the right response protocols to save people’s lives in extreme cases.
Iowa State has a fully trained police department that trains annually on active shooter events and other threats. The department’s first goal is to stop and neutralize the threat so the community is not in danger as quickly as possible.
During the ISUPD January training, the entire staff focused on the core components of responding to any threat situation. They will attend another department-wide training in August. These training sessions are required annually.
“We can’t stop because our skills will perish if we don’t practice and practice,” Newton said.
The department does monthly training on everything related to firearms from general shooting techniques to using airsoft weapons to discussing movement through a building in an event. The use of airsoft is a recent development.
Airsoft guns look like traditional guns, but they shoot non-lethal pellets. They can be used for practice to strengthen the department’s training.
“We were able to go into a room as if we had a true active killer scenario going on, and so that gives us the ability to get an idea of what that might actually be like,” Jacobs said.
ISUPD invested in the necessary equipment to be able to respond to threats. They have high level trauma vests for active events as well as ballistic helmets for all officers. Breach kits have been added in cases where officers need to enter a building.
Despite all the preparations by ISUPD, some students say they don’t feel prepared to handle and respond to an active shooter threat.
“I think it’s one of those things where you don’t think it can happen to you until it happens to you,” said Emma Linde, a fifth-year senior in environmental engineering. “I have no idea what to do.”
ISUPD wants to refer students to the new Iowa State Safe resource app. It has links to emergency plans that students can access. There is a two-minute video for students on responding to an active shooter under the Emergency Aids tab.
Some key takeaways from the educational video include the three defensive tactics students can use in the event of an active shooter: avoid, deny, and defend. The video also asks students to be persistent in trying to contact the police, as the queues may be busy.
“I think that’s where some of our training is lacking, even for the people who have been here a long time,” Jacobs said. “If it’s something that doesn’t affect you personally, it’s something you don’t really think about.”