University police review active threat procedures in wake of Purdue tragedy

By Brittney Nadler

During the recent shooting at Purdue University, when a teaching assistant was shot and killed by a student, some professors continued to teach and even refused to lock doors and take safety precautions, according to the Purdue Review.

In the wake of this tragedy, University of Illinois police officers have met with University faculty and staff to review emergency plans.

An active threat can occur anywhere, from schools to the workplace, and does not only include someone wielding a gun, said UIPD Lt. Matt Myrick. 

“People shouldn’t get locked into one mindset of thinking they can (only) be threatened in one way,” Myrick said. “An active threat can be anything — it seems like most often it is firearm related, but it doesn’t have to be.” 

An active threat is any incident that creates an immediate threat or presents an imminent danger to the campus community, according to the University Public Safety web site. Some other examples include fires or chemical spills.

UIPD conducts training internally and with neighboring law enforcement agencies to prepare for times of emergency; these agencies include the Champaign and Urbana police departments, as well as the Illinois State Police. Myrick said the department builds these relationships so that during a crisis, all departments can come together. 

“We always work with our local agencies because I think you can always look back historically and find that whenever a major incident happens, like (at) Columbine or in Aurora, Colorado, the law enforcement resources from all over are going to pour in,” he said. 

While the University has a procedure for active threats, Myrick said the ensuing response is “nearly pure organized chaos because nobody knows what’s coming in.”

Friends and family outside of campus will typically call students to see if they are OK, but the inevitable system overload of cell phone towers makes it difficult for emergency responders to communicate. 

“It’s a natural human reaction to reach out to your loved ones,” Myrick said. “From a public safety standpoint, it’s probably the worst thing you can do.”

UIPD has given presentations to the chancellor’s cabinet, faculty executives, the council of deans and a majority of academics on campus, said UIPD Lt. Todd Short, director of the Emergency Planning Bureau. The presentation highlighted building emergency action plans for 200 buildings out of the 450 that require them and sharing information with students regarding these measures.

Short said University Public Safety is requesting that every syllabus include information about evacuation and procedures. Professors were given a script at the beginning of the year regarding this issue, which was not required to be read to students. UIPD strongly advocates that it becomes mandatory, Short said. 

During an active threat in one’s premises, running out of the building is advised if it can be done safely. If not, hiding and securing oneself is the best option. If running and hiding are not possible, the last option is to “fight with everything they’ve got,” Short said.

The Department of Homeland Security has adopted a “Run, Hide, Fight,” policy that UIPD has also accepted. 

UIPD Sgt. Aaron Landers and Officer Brian Tison teach an active threat class for University faculty. Landers said the course first teaches people how to calm a situation before it becomes a threat.

“The vast majority of these (active threat situations) have had some sort of mental illness component,” Landers said. “What we would like to see is people actually identifying those people who are about to erupt and get them the help they need before they come back with a gun.”

Landers said he has received two phone calls from past participants in his class who said they reported suspicious people because the course helped make them more aware of who to look out for. 

But in the cases where that person is not identified, the class offers basic protection tips such as locking doors, fighting back and arming yourself, Landers said. Offering real life scenarios on how to protect oneself will help fight the “feeling of doom” that often arises in active shooting situations.  

“When people do fight back in these situations, they are actually successful, and if they don’t, they’re generally not successful,” Landers said. “If you fight back you may die; if you don’t fight back, you will die.”                  

Brittney can be reached at [email protected]