A group of Alberta universities and colleges have launched an education campaign including an instructional video to prepare tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff for the day a deranged gunman stalks one of their campuses.
The schools, including the University of Alberta and SAIT Polytechnic, produced a slick six-minute dramatization of an attack on a school, complete with a man prowling a campus using a semi-automatic rifle, the popping sound of gunshots and students tripping in terror.
The advice offered in the video echoes training provided in the United States by the Department of Homeland Security and boils down to three options: Run, hide and, as a last resort, attack with all your might.
Alberta officials are careful to note their students are more likely to be struck by lightning or hit by a meteor than face a homicidal gunman – to speak nothing of common campus threats posed by assault, drinking and traffic accidents. But officials say students and parents often ask what to do if ever confronted by an “active shooter,” as random gunmen are known in law enforcement.
“These attacks are rare, but one reason we are taking this step is that we are not conditioned to taking action in these types of situations,” said Andrew Leitch, a senior official of risk management at the U of A.
“We are taught in nice polite society to be cool, the police will come to protect you. The message here is that there are times when you are just going to have to take care of yourself.”
Such programs are common in the United States, where mass shootings targeting random individuals, particularly in schools, are more frequent. On the weekend, a 22-year-old man killed six people and himself in a rampage through the California college town of Santa Barbara.
Canadian universities such as the University of Saskatchewan, Bishop’s University in Quebec and Kwantlen Polytechnic University in the Vancouver area publish warnings on their websites. Alberta’s campaign appears to be among the early co-ordinated efforts across a province.
Mr. Leitch said recent violence in Alberta helped focus their efforts, even if they were not exactly active-shooter scenarios. The Hub Mall shooting on the U of A campus where three armoured-car guards were killed by a colleague, and the stabbing of five young adults in Calgary in April “kind of galvanized us,” Mr. Leitch said.
Barry Cochran, manager of security and emergency services at the SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary, said classroom leaders often have an initial instinct to attempt to talk down a school shooter, a tactic that has proven fatally ineffective. People also often freeze when confronted with such violence. Offering a simple procedure can save lives, said Mr. Cochran, a former Calgary police officer.
He noted police tactics shifted away from slowly evaluating and containing shootings toward direct, rapid intervention to contain losses.
“The active killer has already turned off their normal human instincts. They don’t see you as a person any more,” said Mr. Cochran. “Staging, trying to get intel, negotiation, there is no substantial reward in the end. Just carnage.”
While the video is on the Internet, each Alberta school is rolling out the project in its own way. SAIT has already presented the video and instruction to faculty and staff. The U of A is offering training sessions to any campus group that might want them. Reaching out to all 37,000 students and 15,000 staff is unrealistic, Mr. Leitch noted.
The idea is to reach as many people as possible so that in any given group, at least a few will have the presence of mind to yell “run,” barricade a door or prepare to fight back.