The catastrophic phenomena of mass shootings

Photo by Cassie Wade
Jessica Wade

Thousands of students walk through UNO’s campus each day. They attend classes, study in the library, meet up with friends at Milo and go about their lives on a fairly routine schedule. Many of them have probably never considered the possibility that someday this typically safe campus could become a battleground for life or death.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group, since the Sandy Hook shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, a gun has been fired on a school campus an average of once a week.

Shootings on high school and college campuses have grown more common and deadly throughout the past decade. So common, the news of yet another shooting incident is often met with brief public attention and a lack of surprise. Yet, despite how unfortunately common active shooter situations are becoming, many students and faculty do not know what to do if such an incident were to occur.

“They need to know how to evacuate and what lock down and lock out really means,” Tyler Davis, an Emergency Services Program instructor said. “If you don’t practice with your students your students will have no idea. If you try to communicate a plan last minute through text message, email, overhead paging, that’s going to be chaotic.”

Davis said that students should absolutely not pull a fire alarm in response to an active shooter on campus because, “that just confuses the incident and could draw more people out into the kill zone.”

Emergency Preparedness Coordinator and Police Sergeant Dave Points said that the university tries to make preventative moves that will hopefully keep an attack from happening, and UNO has a Behavioral Review Team (BRT) to help.

“They (BRT) are actually a team that is cross-disciplined, they involve psychology academia, the public safety department,” Points said. “If anyone has a concern about an individual on campus, they can actually call the BRT anonymously and they can report what they see. Then, the team evaluates the situation and they do whatever they can to help the individual resolve whatever issues they might have.”

Points stresses that if a student finds themselves in an active killer situation they shouldn’t just crawl up into a ball and hide beneath a desk, citing the catastrophic toll of the Columbine shooting.

“There’s a video on YouTube where you can hear the 911 operator talking to the teacher in the classroom and she’s telling the kids to hide underneath the desk,” Points said. “There’s an exit in the back of the room, but she was trained that they should shelter in place. Some of the kids, you can hear them in the background saying ‘shouldn’t we run’ this was in that library that became infamous for the amount of causalities it suffered.”

Joseph Mancuso, a UNO instructor and retired member of the Omaha Fire Department, said that students should assess their situation before reacting.

“Don’t automatically stand up and look out a door or window,” Mancuso said. “Wait a minute, collect your thoughts, then react.”

There is no quick answer or solution to the rapidly-growing problem of school shootings, but that doesn’t mean students and faculty can’t prepare for disaster. And that definitely doesn’t mean the deadly (and somehow uniquely American) phenomena that is “mass shootings” should be swept off the table by the 100 mph winds of the next hurricane.

Is it naively optimistic to believe the American public can focus on more than one issue at a time? Maybe, but this is an issue that just keeps coming back in an endless, deadly cycle. So, students should pay attention to their surroundings, report on concerning behavior, have a plan for the worst and acknowledge that school shootings are a serious and common threat.

“I think gun violence should be considered as a threat to public health looked at, studied and researched as a public health threat,” Davis said. “I mean it’s just too easy to end someone’s life with a gun.”