Thursday marked the one year anniversary of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The deaths of 17 students and teachers served as a stark reminder of the possibilities of violence on a school campus.
Paula Mercado, who graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School one year before the shooting, calls for stricter gun control and more attention for on-campus gun safety.
“We had drills throughout my four years, and they took it really seriously,” Mercado told Annenberg Media. “But you’re never ready for a shooter to come into your class.”
Security has improved at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Mercado said, “but we still have a long way to go.”
Mercado thinks on-campus gun control and gun safety education is very important, but still “being ignored and it shouldn’t be.”
At USC, the Department of Public Safety has several important tips and reminders to keep students, faculty and staff safe during an active shooter situation. Their main protocol when faced with an active shooter: run, hide and fight.
On their website, DPS first recommends getting as far away from the gunman as possible and leaving behind any personal belongings. Time is of the utmost importance in these situations, and every second matters to get to safety.
If you do not believe you can get away in time, the next option is to hide and be silent. DPS recommends turning off phone vibration mode and hiding any lighted screens. Prevent the shooter’s entry by securing doors with heavy pieces of furniture or looping a belt around the door handle, the police said.
If confronted by the shooter, the next step is to put up a fight, DPS emphasizes. This means using objects that can serve as weapons against the shooter, such as chairs or fire extinguishers. The main physical targets to attack are the eyes, nose, neck, chest and groin area.
However, Dr. Erroll G. Southers, a USC professor, safety expert and former SWAT team member, believes that the run, hide and fight method may not be the most effective one for everyone.
“It is difficult to ask people to do something for the first time in their lives when they’re desperately afraid to save their lives,” Southers said.
“If you’re not someone who’s ever considered [a] death threat seriously, when it really happens, you’re going to refer to what you’ve either done before or never done, which is essentially freeze, and it’s not going to work,” Southers said.
But Southers thinks USC is now “ahead of the curve” on gun safety on campus.
“We have active shooter drills on a routine basis,” Southers said. “Price School [of Public Policy] has a number of open community meetings on the subject.” An LAPD SWAT team is assigned to USC’s campus every day, he said.
“Last year we had the false alert at Fertitta. One of the reasons for the extraordinary response was the fact that LAPD SWAT is here,” Southers said.
DPS has officers trained to teach Run-Hide-Fight, and they give training programs to groups upon request.
“We’re very busy conducting that training. We have lots of requests, so it’s something we routinely do,” said DPS Assistant Chief David Carlisle.
Despite all the existing policies and training, there are still improvements to be made.
“One of the things we do here and more people need to do is to understand that the threat is dynamic and security is dynamic,” Southers said. “Our improvement comes with looking at new ways to do things. Looking at new vulnerabilities and trying to enhance security with more policies or procedures that might be more effective.”
As a gun owner, Southers still believes that for the Parkland shooting, access to weapons was the problem. “And the response to this can not only be more weapons because that is not the answer,” he said.
Students at Parkland and elsewhere have also called for gun control. “I think we need stricter gun laws, it’s just as simple as that,” Mercado said. “Right now it easier for me to go get a gun than to buy a beer.”
Additional reporting by Sophia Hausch.