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Don’t Freeze: Targeted Violence Training Teaches Students to Act

August 29, 2016
by Krissy Eliot

Since 2000, at least 160 “active-shooter” incidents have occurred in the United States, according to an FBI study from 2000-2013. And shootings have become more frequent—from 6.4 incidents annually in the first seven years of the study, to 16.4 in the last seven. Like many institutions, the University of California has responded by making training available.

On Wednesday, I joined students and faculty members inside the Cal Calling Center on Bancroft Way for Targeted Violence Training. The purpose is to teach students and staff how to respond effectively to active shootings and attacks. My editor sent me to cover the event as soon as she heard about it, suggesting that I’d learn something to protect all of us at the magazine. (Journalism is dying as it is.)

About 20 people piled into the small room full of tiny grey computer cubicles, and within the first five minutes, stuff got—for lack of a better term—real, when UC crime prevention officer Wade MacAdam asking the group to contemplate their morality in real world danger scenarios.

“You need to think about what you can do and what you’re willing to do,” MacAdam says. “If I have a gun in your face and I’m right here, are you willing to take that gun and kill me? A lot of people won’t kill someone, and that’s fine. It’s your choice. But say you’ve got a big old piece of metal. Can you pistol whip me? Piss me off? Can you maybe knock me out?”

He asked if we would save a family member or a friend. Were co-workers or strangers worth the time? If you were trapped in a building with the shooter, would you turn to the guy in the wheelchair and ask him if it was cool to toss him out the window to save him? He told us to think about it and make these decisions in our spare time. “I know you didn’t think you’d be getting homework,” MacAdam said with a laugh.

The class sat in a stunned, hushed silence as he spoke—running through the helpful acronym ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, escape), that describes the procedure when faced with a shooter emergency. MacAdam touched on UC Police contact information, and gave some facts about the mechanisms of revolvers, semi-automatics, and assault rifles—and then the Powerpoint was off, and the Nerf was on.

Norman La, development operations manager at the Call Center, played the role of the shooter, pointing the Nerf while MacAdam demonstrated how to hug the gun so the assailant wouldn’t be able to shoot him. The class then acted out shooting scenarios, some participants pretending to be shooters while others were armed with orange foam balls to throw at the faux attackers.

I opted to hide under the desk during the drills because I was too busy taking notes to grab a projectile before the others had snatched them up. (A true writer even to the death.) I did hold onto my pen tightly though—since MacAdam said that it could be used as a weapon if need be.

When MacAdam asked the class if they felt more empowered to take action after the live demo, the majority nodded and murmured yes.

This emphasis on acting, rather than freezing in an emergency, was the biggest takeaway for Moriah Mitchell, a Berkeley sophomore majoring in political economy and legal studies. “I think that must happen a lot [in attacks]. They’re shooting, and you have time to run, but you don’t run because you don’t know what to do.” Mitchell notes that she felt herself freeze up during the demo, and was one of the students who didn’t throw anything, but instead hid under her desk.

According to Joseph Walker, an intended Haas student, the only thing missing from the presentation was a video clip of a real attack. “With a video, we could analyze a real scenario versus us doing it in person,” Walker says. “I know the demo is supposed to help—and it does—but it is still a little sillier. With a video, it would be more demonstrational, more serious.”

The course, once known as “Active Shooter Training,” is now called Targeted Violence Training. In light of last year’s stabbing at UC Merced and the use of vehicles to mow people down, the focus has widened to all weapons, according to MacAdam.

MacAdam warns that these particular trainings do not educate people on how to act in the event of a robbery—and says that in the case of a mugging, you should just give them your stuff. “That suspect has a completely different mindset,” MacAdam says. (Good to know, given the recent string of robberies near the campus.)

Says Cameron Rico, “I’ve been thinking about safety a lot during my commute, while riding BART.” A development associate for Annual Programs in University Development and Alumni Relations, Rico says he’s glad to have this program in place. “It’s good to have some plan, not feel helpless.”

MacAdams says there is no data from UC showing that these training courses actually help in threat scenarios. Curious to see if I had walked away from the training feeling more capable for no reason, I looked it up: It doesn’t appear that many studies have yet been done on the effectiveness of these programs, since they’re still in their infancy.

There is one study from Liberty University in Virginia released in 2014, in which researchers surveyed 136 randomly assigned undergrads who’d experienced different levels of training. The respondents reported that the trainings had a positive influence on them in terms of safety, fear, and resilience. The study points out that it only takes a small group of people to lead others during dangerous events—so it’s possible that those who attend trainings will be more able to save others.

Where will I be in the event of a real siege? That’s still to be determined. I have a lot of moral-homework to do.

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