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City, campus as prepared as they can be for active shooter, officials say

Falcon News Service

October 5, 2016

After recent mass shootings and stabbings, local government and university officials say they are prepared for the unexpected.

Mass shootings are a trend that continues to occur around the United States in places that people usually feel safe, such as on the campus of a university in a small town in western Wisconsin.

“There isn’t one person who isn’t working diligently to be sure we are prepared. I can’t stress that enough,” said Connie Smith, director of risk management for UW-River Falls. The campus already has a good communication process in place, added Smith.

The university is working on a written lock down policy that would be shared with everyone on campus so there would be a clear understanding of what the expectations are in an active shooter incident, according to Smith.

Mass shootings can happen anywhere and at any time. In the past year there have been shootings at college campuses, schools, shopping malls, businesses and night clubs.

In 2014, the FBI initiated a study of active shooter incidents between 2000-2013. The study revealed that most incidents occurred in either businesses or school environments. According to the study, the best way for people to survive an active shooter incident is to know what to do ahead of time.

Both the River Falls Police Department and the UWRF police train extensively for incidents that involve firearms.

“Our SWAT team trains extensively for active shooters and we also do a lot of incident sharing,” said River Falls Police Sgt. Denton Anderson. When an incident happens, a law enforcement agency will share the information with other agencies so everyone is informed, added Anderson. All River Falls law enforcement officers are trained with an FBI program tailored to counter active threats. The local police also work closely with UW-River Falls campus police, said Anderson.

Recent Wisconsin laws have changed allowing people to open carry and concealed firearms on campuses, but campus officials and local business owners can override it.

“Open carry is not allowed on campus,” UWRF Police Chief Karl Fleury said in a phone interview. In addition to no open carry, all the buildings on campus have posted signs at entrances stating no weapons are allowed in buildings.

Open carry laws allow people to carry a fire arms out in the open.

“We are a city within a city. We have over 6,100 students, plus many faculty and staff,” said Fleury. “The student population is half the size of River Falls,” he added. The campus police go through the same training as city police officers.

This is not something the university takes lightly, said Smith. Being prepared is key.

“I don’t know what else we can do,” said the president of the University of Wisconsin System, Ray Cross, in a phone interview. Campus police have gone through all the tabletop exercises and simulations preparing for active shooters, he added.

The university and River Falls police departments have conducted active shooter simulations on the campus grounds. The latest simulation was this past August.

In 2012, the city of Houston, Texas, produced an informational video after the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, where 12 people were killed and many more were injured at a movie theater. The video is called “Run-Hide-Fight.” The goal of the video was to help inform individuals of what to do if they encounter an active shooter. This video has been used for training by multiple police departments across the United States, including the River Falls police department and the university police.

Recently, the UW-Madison police department made a video that depicts a school or classroom environment with the same components of the Houston “Run-Hide-Fight” video.

In the case of an active threat, UWRF has a mass emergency alert system that sends emails, texts and voice mails to anyone who signs up for it.

Schools and universities that bear the responsibility of caring for students are prepared, but local businesses rely on police for help in incidents with an active shooter.

Local bars in River Falls can be filled with people most evenings and weekends. A popular spot is Broz Sports Bar, which can be packed on weekends.

“We don’t have anything formal in place,” said Broz bar manager Derrick Arntz. The bar doesn’t allow guns because of the alcohol, added Arntz. It’s not something the management really have had to think about, but maybe should, said Arntz.

The popular bar has systems in place to help stop trouble before it starts.

The bar has bouncers on duty standing at the front door checking IDs and they look for weapons during the busiest times. But, if trouble does arise, they are going to rely on the police. Arntz said he assumes the police are prepared.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security made a booklet informing people about active shooters and how to respond. According to the booklet, active shooter situations are unpredictable and happen fast, so people should beware of situations and know what to do. The booklet can be downloaded as a PDF at www.dhs.gov.

Both the River Falls Police department and the UWRF campus police encourage people to be informed and have a plan. The Houston “Run-Hide-Fight” video is available on YouTube. The new UW-Madison police video can be found on the Risk Management webpage on the UWRF website. Citizens can also access information about surviving an active shooter incidence on the UWRF Risk Management webpage.