Still running, still hiding and still fighting: Despite continued school shootings, protocols remain unchanged

February 26, 2023

About 10 years ago, DePaul adopted the active shooter safety protocol — run, hide, fight.

In 2013, the university changed its emergency operations plan to align with the guidelines released by the National Incident Management System (NIMS), an organization developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to Cheryl Hover, associate director of emergency management for DePaul.

Thirteen years after NIMS released the recommended “run, hide, fight” active shooter safety protocol based on research from the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, school shootings continue to increase. 

2018 had the highest number of active shooter incidents in schools since 1970, according to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. In 2018, they recorded 11 active shooter incidents, with another spike in 2021 recording nine shootings. The data shows the number of nonactive school shootings has also continued to increase since 2018.

“One of the sad things about the active shooter is, again, they’re actively looking for victims,” said Tom Henkey, director of emergency management at Titan Security Group and an adjunct faculty member for DePaul’s School of Public Service. “The best thing you can do is put distance between you and the bad guy, and that’s really what ‘run, hide, fight’ comes down to.”

DePaul freshman criminology student Amanda Operana said some of her professors go over safety protocols at the start of each quarter, however, The DePaulia found this is not the case for most students.

“I thought it was effective when my professors went over the safety protocol in class at the beginning of each quarter,” she said. “In my opinion, the lesson wouldn’t have been as valuable if they had just shown a video in class since it can be tempting for students to zone out during these presentations.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines an active shooter as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” 

There have been 71 active shooter incidents on K-12 and secondary school campuses since 2008, according to data compiled from the Violence Project and the Center for Homeland Defence and Security. This does not include the recent shooting at Michigan State University on Feb. 13. 

The FBI’s most recent report on active shooter scenarios in the United States found there were 61 in 2021. 

“The 61 is truly things like you see at MSU, where it’s somebody who’s mobile, they’re actively shooting off in more than one location,” Henkey said. “And the only way that they’re going to be stopped is essentially [by] law enforcement or armed security, something of that sort. So that’s really concerning.”

DePaul’s Public safety department offers 24/7 safety services to students – but only when they are on campus. (DePaulia Staff)

According to the “active shooter” section of DePaul’s emergency plan website, “run, hide, fight” entails running from the threat if those endangered have a clear exit, hiding or securing their area to delay the attacker if they are unable to escape and fighting the attacker as a last resort.

Haley Pennington, DePaul’s Student Government Association’s (SGA) senator for the College of Law, said her biggest concern is that the university’s buildings are open to the public.

“My biggest issue is our buildings are public buildings, and the only way to prohibit someone from coming in is if they had a prior infraction with someone inside,” Pennington said. “There needs to be a way to monitor the people coming in, and elevator logistics and lobby congestion cannot get in the way of finding solutions to keeping students, faculty and staff safe.”

Hover said “run, hide, fight” will continue to be DePaul’s primary active shooter response protocol because it is still recommended by the FBI, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“‘Run, hide, fight’ continues to be the recommended response from FBI/FEMA/DHS and has been for many years,” Hover said. “While we do not have any immediate changes planned at this time, we constantly look to the federal organizations and other experts for the latest advice on best protocol.”

However, Hover said the university has made changes in how they alert the community in the event of an emergency. 

So far, she said the university upgraded the system used to launch messages through speakers in all of DePaul’s buildings, allowing them to activate announcements from either campus, and also changed the technology platform used to launch DPU alert messages. 

Hover said DePaul also created a threat assessment team prompted by an after-action report following the Virginia Tech shooting. The team meets weekly to review reports of concerning behavior on campus, she said.

“The goal of this team is to prevent an incident from happening,” she said. “In the case at Virginia Tech, there was no interdisciplinary team and [there were] multiple reports of concerning signs from the perpetrator [that] were not connected until after the fact.”

Henkey urges students to be aware of their surroundings at all times and to actively look for possible exits when entering a building because an active shooting incident could happen at any time, at any moment.

“The assailants, like the guy at MSU, are thinking about these things, they are having these thoughts, and they are putting planning and preparedness into the intent to cause harm,” Henkey said. “The people who are good folks, who don’t have those kinds of ideas in their head or would never consider doing something like that, still have to think about this stuff in advance.”

Hover said the university also has door barricade devices installed in each classroom so students and faculty can lock the doors if a shooting breaks out during class times.

The emergency response team attends each college’s meetings at DePaul to train faculty and staff in the event there is an active shooter incident, Hover said.

“We’ve been pretty successful at getting into even small departmental meetings, but also on a larger scale per college,” she said.

However, Hover said training students is more difficult, and while they try to educate students at orientation, training is not mandatory.

According to DePaul’s public safety director, Bob Wachowski, all active shooter incidents should be immediately reported to 911 first, before public safety. 

“The first call should almost always go to 911 in serious situations, especially if it’s an active shooter, and the reason for that is we are not a sworn police department,” Wachowski said. 

In the case there is an active shooter on DePaul’s campus, Wachowski said Public Safety’s responsibilities would be to get the notices out to the campus community and to assist the first responders like the Chicago Police Department (CPD) or the Fire Department.

“We give them, you know, all the information that they need so that they can safely secure the scene, and then we will assist them in whatever else that they direct us to,” Wachowski said. 

According to Wachowski, DePaul has a close-working relationship with CPD to ensure students safety on both campuses.

“We’re in constant communication with them,” he said. “If there’s any type of threat that they perceive is real to the Chicagoland area or to college campuses, they make sure and update us on that information.” 

According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, nearly 40% of private universities and over 90% of public universities have sworn police officers with full arrest powers. In the Chicago area, the University of Chicago has the largest armed campus police force with approximately 100 sworn officers, according to the campus website

Unlike other Chicago area universities, DePaul does not have a sworn police department.

Earlier this year, President Robert L. Manuel told The DePaulia he does not plan on this happening under his leadership.

“I think our practices may be better in the Public Safety Group,” Manuel said. 

Operana said she mostly feels safe on campus with DePaul’s current safety measures in place, however, she said it is difficult to feel safe all the time living in a city like Chicago.

“We can’t get obsessed about it, we can’t let it take over our lives, but we do need to give it some thought,” Henkey said.

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