New program prepares employees and students for active shooter

University Park, Pa. -- Imagine being in a building during a normal day of teaching, working and learning. Gunshots are heard and an individual carrying a gun runs through the hall.  Would you know what to do?

Providing individuals with instruction and options they need should such a situation occur is the goal of a new one-hour program created by Penn State's Human Resource Development Center (HRDC), along with University Police and Penn State’s Risk Management Office.

"University campuses are among the safest places in the world,” said Steve Shelow, director of University Police. "This training is not intended to create fear, but to create awareness. We want the members of our community to know what to do should they ever be confronted by an active shooter, and we want to foster a campus culture that supports safety."

The course, titled "Five OUTs: Surviving an Active Shooter," includes a high-quality video professionally produced by Penn State Public Broadcasting with enactments of an active shooter scenario interspersed with advice from police. It also involves interaction with University Police officers, who are currently teaching the course.

Shelow said that a few other universities have created safety courses that take into account a shooting scenario as well. In Penn State’s case, the video is only available for viewing as part of the training program in order to provide individuals with a full picture and context for the instruction. The program and video focus on the five "outs" in such a crisis:

- “Get out” of the area to somewhere safe.

- “Call out” by calling 911.

- “Hide out” until help arrives.

- “Keep out” the perpetrator by locking and barricading doors.

- “Take out” the shooter as a measure of last resort.

"Situations such as the one shown in the video can occur anywhere -- on the street, in a mall, in a bank -- and students, faculty and staff should be provided with the best information possible on how to respond," said Rick Capozzi, human resources specialist in HRDC. “The information and tactics shown in the video and discussed by our officers are things that people can use in any similar situation.”

Capozzi said the purpose of the program is to help participants stay calm and be prepared in an emergency by establishing a heightened awareness and survival mindset for such situations. The program also is intended to help attendees recognize warning signs of potential behavior and identify options, responsibilities and actions in the event of an armed threat. It also teaches participants to recognize University warning systems and response protocols and typical actions of police and emergency responders during a situation.

Demand for the program is high, with 30 sessions being offered in the first three months of the program’s existence, Capozzi said. The course is available on all Penn State campuses and a maximum of only 30 participants is recommended because of the need for a manageable group size to permit discussion and idea exchange.    

"A gunman coming into where you work is a scary idea," said Patricia Taverno, a staff assistant in University Relations who attended the program. "But what this course did was help us think about what we could be faced with and explore how we could react. I left feeling more prepared and better informed."

The course, according to Shelow, is just one more component of Penn State’s emergency response preparedness.

People tend to panic when they don’t know what to do in a stressful situation. With this training, we want participants to be more aware of options so they can respond in an appropriate manner and increase the possibility of a positive outcome,” Shelow said. “Just like fire drills, where everyone knows what to do and understands their responsibilities, this course is hopefully showing Penn Staters their options for handling the potentially dangerous situation of an active shooter.”

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Last Updated May 20, 2011