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False Alarm: What are we supposed to do in case of an active shooter?

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I have an evening class in D building Thursday nights, and partly because for once it was nice out and not pitch black or raining (and also because D building always smells) we decided to have the windows open when the class began. A little after 8 p.m., once we had settled back in from the break, we heard two loud bangs coming from what I believe to be the direction of McKenzie Road.

I’ve been in west Abbotsford my entire life, and between people finding any excuse to blow off fireworks and the occasional townline conflict news story, the sounds aren’t exactly normal, but at the same time they’ve never been a direct cause for alarm. Somewhat bewildered, a student in the class remarked that it sounded like it could be gunshots.

Now, I’ve never grown up around firearms (although I don’t have any principled or moral reason to avoid them either, I just think bow and arrows are more badass) but my initial thought brushed aside the assertion because there were only two shots with less than a half-minute gap between them. I’m used to hearing about would-be gangbangers and their terrible aim, and I assumed if it was a handgun that there would be more shots. But I guess I also dismissed it because this is UFV and things like that don’t happen here. (Gunshots anyways; we have tons of issues and ongoing concerns as last week’s security notice about campus creepers should remind us.)

The idea was out there, and a few more students — whom we afforded credibility on the subject because they’ve mentioned having been around guns and rural life — chimed in with an affirmative. At this point, the professor grew concerned and proceeded to put us into lockdown while he went out to call security. We closed the windows, drew down the blinds, turned off the lights and our laptops, and discreetly checked Twitter for any news. It felt like a middle school safety drill, and I think we were all over the spectrum in terms of how seriously we were taking this.

Even after security did a lap of the campus, we were the only ones to have reported anything. A guard even dropped by to clarify the situation, saying there wasn’t presently anything to be worried about. We laughed it off, a group sigh of relief and reflection on our overreaction. However it did bring up the question of what exactly the lockdown procedure is supposed to be, or how classes would be alerted were there an actual active shooter situation: a megaphone? A siren? I vaguely recall a drill done a few years ago (and I can’t say I saw many people participating) that said to seek shelter until an all-clear notification was given, and the emergency procedure section of UFV’s website doesn’t provide much else on this scenario. I wonder where administration stands on the “Run, Hide, Fight” protocol adopted by other universities, such as Ohio State which had its own violent incident this past fall, and developed by the Department of Homeland Security. It emphasizes trying to evacuate if possible, hiding if not, and taking action as a last resort.

Even though we knew logically there was nothing to be concerned about, that sinking feeling you get when someone brings up the idea of a gunman on campus didn’t leave us immediately. I noticed my professor glancing towards the doors, which faced the foyer in the teacher education wing, whenever we would hear someone pass by or enter the building. Others, including me, did the same, and quite a few even changed how they sat so they had a better view of the door. A student admitted to me that he did that purposefully in case he would need to duck under a table or throw one up in front of himself.

I’m not saying this was traumatic (at least for me) but it was definitely surreal. It also makes me think about what has changed in the world; I wonder if we would have had the same reaction a year ago — or five. I’m glad nothing really happened, but it’s probably a good thing we got this spooked because now is the time to figure out how we should be responding, whether that is a more clearly defined and implemented Emergency Management Plan, or UFV adapting steps taken elsewhere, or the annual round of suggestions from CMNS 480: Crisis Communications. Whatever our policy is, this might be a good time to put it into practice and make sure it’s communicated. There is a well tread proverb about hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, and the way things are now I don’t know if that is being too alarmist.

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