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What to do in case of an active shooter

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Cuesta College's library. Photo by Ellie Thomas

In 2018, there were 24 school shootings in the U.S.

These events took the lives of 35 men, women, and children, and injured 79 more.  Most people probably don’t believe  that their school or place of work could be next.

That’s why Cuesta College has a plan in place.

The Initial Discovery: What To Do If You Hear Gunshots

According to Cuesta College Chief of Police Bryan Millard, gunshots are often sudden and jarring.  If individuals hear them, Millard advises to be alert. Look around and listen. Take cover as soon as possible.  Gesture to other students if possible, but safety is the first priority.

Millard said to take shelter somewhere safe.  A bush may provide concealment, but it won’t stop a bullet.  A wall will have better coverage and provide a better shield for the bullets.  If it’s safe, a building is the best place to go. It can provide the most hiding places, but there is a risk of the shooter targeting a building since more people would be inside.  

The next thing to do is call campus police at #3911 from a school based phone.  Regular 911 calls go off campus so it would take longer for help to arrive. Once Cuesta Police are aware of the situation, they are able to contact other police task forces.

Alert and Lockdown

Being on lockdown is likely unpleasant, but it could save lives.

Once Cuesta Police are alerted to the situation, two things will happen very quickly: The emergency light system will go from white to red, and the mycuesta alert system will send everyone a message.

The campus emergency light system, located in every classroom. Photo by Ellie Thomas

The emergency light system will let everyone know that the campus is on lockdown until further notice.  For students who aren’t in classrooms, the mycuesta Alert will send an email out along with a text to all registered cell phone numbers.  In addition to these measures, a new app will allow students to receive notifications, even if they don’t have signal. 

The problem, as Millard pointed out, is that not everyone is registered in the mycuesta alert.  Students who are not registered through it have a good chance of missing a lot of information, especially in regards to safety.  Students can sign up through the campus website.

Cuesta Police Response

As soon as they are aware of the situation, campus police’s first goal is to take care of the threat.  

“A shooter’s goal is to cause as much damage as possible,” Millard said.  

As soon as they have the call, anyone who is not already dealing with a situation will be dispatched and can arrive in as little as two to three minutes.  Within five minutes, dozens of officers will likely be on the scene. Millard stated that in total, over 150 officers will likely be at the scene.  

Though officers will continue to arrive, those who initially respond won’t be waiting for back-up as they go in.  

Fire personnel are set to to enter a few minutes after the police push forward in order to aid the wounded.  

Search and Evacuation

Even after the immediate threat is dealt with, there is a lot of work to do.

“A shooter could have ditched the weapon and try to blend into the crowd or have hidden himself in a classroom,” Millard said.

Before the lockdown can be lifted, the campus will be searched for additional weapons and any explosives.  Classrooms are searched individually to make sure that everyone who is in class is enrolled.  

Individual students will also be checked, both for weapons and for any injuries.  

The campus will be evacuated to a safe place, away from where the violence initially occurred.

Once the lockdown is cleared, parents with children in the childcare center will be contacted so they can safely get their child.  DSPS students who need extra help getting off campus are also a priority.

The end goal is for the campus police to work with each student so they can get home safely.

Preparation: Ways To Keep From Getting Caught Off Guard

The first thing to do is register for a mycuesta alert.  It will send an alert for big and small emergencies.  In addition to the alert, there is now an app called RAVE Guardian, which can work without cell signal.

The Cuesta College Police Department holds training sessions every semester.  These sessions give invaluable information and are hosted on Cuesta College’s SLO and NCC campuses.

If students, faculty and other interested parties cannot attend those sessions, Cuesta police also keep several videos about their training.  There is one for an active shooting, detailing what individuals should do until law enforcement arrives.  

Keep in mind…

After 24 school shootings in 2018, the threat of an active shooter is very real. Millard emphasized it’s important to know what to do in such situations.  That being said, it’s very important to remember that it’s not a likely scenario.  

“I have thought about what I would do,” said Elise Hakeem, an 18-year-old studio arts major at Cuesta College. “I feel like you can’t let it stop you from living your day-to-day life.”