Since the Parkland, Fla. shooting last month, Madeline Budman (COL ’18) has felt a heightened sense of apprehension in public places.
For Budman, the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is personal. Alyssa Alhadeff, one of the campers at the Jewish Reform camp where Budman worked last year, was among the 17 people killed when a 19-year-old former student opened fire on students and teachers Feb. 14.
Now — on campus, at the movies or even just outside — Budman said she finds herself mentally preparing in case events take a tragic turn.
“It’s become just a fact of going to a school — existing in a public space, really, is just being aware of where are the exits and where would I have to hide if something happened,” Budman said in an interview The Hoya. “I’m like that on campus; I’m also like that if I go to a movie theater, and I just feel like that is the reality of our world right now.”
Budman is not alone. The Parkland shooting left many dismayed by the threat of gun violence on campuses, including hundreds of Georgetown University students, faculty members and community members who participated in a nationwide school walkout against gun violence last Wednesday.
This Saturday, thousands of protesters from across the country are expected to take to the streets of Washington, D.C., for the March For Our Lives, a protest against gun violence organized by survivors of the Parkland shooting.
Amid these movements, schools across the country are under scrutiny for their protocols to prevent and minimize the effects of mass casualty events.
While lawmakers on Capitol Hill deliberate how best to resolve the country’s gun violence crisis, the Georgetown University Police Department has established its own policies to follow in the event of an active-shooter situation on Georgetown’s main campus.
According to Chief of Police and Assistant Vice President for Public Safety Jay Gruber, GUPD reviews its active-shooter protocols following any national incident, including after the Parkland shooting.
“We’re always looking at recent events involving all sorts of terrorist or shooting threats, and we look at each one through a new lens, but it’s not often we change our protocols based on new events,” Gruber said.
Under current policy, GUPD officers, who are unarmed, are responsible for alerting the Metropolitan Police Department to send responding officers to the scene of a shooting as quickly as possible. They then assume a supporting role to the MPD, assisting in establishing a perimeter, helping keep people away from the scene and performing other ancillary duties.
The student-run Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service is also capable of supporting D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services in administering medical assistance to gunshot victims on the scene.
GERMS Captain Ali Baird (NHS ’19) wrote in an email to The Hoya that GERMS members are trained to provide medical assistance to gunshot victims but rely on GUPD and MPD to assess the safety of the scene before they step in.
“GERMS members are trained to assess patients with various traumatic injuries, including gunshot wounds. Our fast response time proves that we are ready to help during a wide range of medical emergencies,” Baird wrote. “However, as EMTs we are only able to treat patients once the scene has been deemed to be safe by other agencies, such as GUPD and MPD.”
Students and faculty would be notified of an active shooter on campus through HOYAlert, the university’s emergency alert system that notifies students and faculty of emergencies on their cell phones via text message, voicemail and email.
The university encourages students to take a “Run.Hide.Fight” approach during an active shooter situation, which is outlined on the university website and available to campus organizations in half-hour training sessions coordinated by the GUPD.
The procedure, which is recommended by the Department of Education, dictates evacuating the area during an active-shooter situation and, if this action proves impossible, hiding in an area out of the armed attacker’s view. As a final resort, people are instructed to fight to incapacitate the aggressor, possibly using nearby items such as fire extinguishers or chairs.
Andrew Bennett, a professor in the government department, said faculty are periodically reminded of the best practices for active-shooter situations. Nevertheless, Bennett advocated for better campus preparedness in the form of active shooter drills.
“I can understand why universities are cautious about running drills,” Bennett said. “As unpleasant as it is for all of us, it makes sense to get people prepared in the really unlikely, but not impossible, scenario where we have some kind of active shooter situation going on.”
Budman, too, expressed concern about campus preparedness, particularly regarding the university’s emergency notification system.
She said that her experiences with the HOYAlert system have left her feeling misinformed, referencing a false tornado warning that students received in January 2016 and an alert of an armed individual around campus during the armed robbery of the ExxonMobil station near campus in 2015 that failed to provide specific details about the incident.
“I just don’t trust the systems that are in place to be effective,” Budman said.
But on the topic of arming school faculty — a proposal President Donald Trump endorsed as a preventative measure to deter mass shootings in schools following the Parkland shooting — both Bennett and Budman are skeptical.
“The evidence doesn’t suggest that that is an effective approach,” Bennett said. “And I think common sense suggests that that is not an effective approach.”
Up in Arms
As of October 2017, the District, became a “shall issue” state, meaning that any applicant who meets D.C.’s gun licensing criteria will be issued a license authorizing “concealed carry” of a firearm without being required to demonstrate “good cause” for carrying a gun.
The D.C. Council permits concealed carry of registered guns only in authorized areas, excluding public spaces like the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority stations and public libraries, high-security areas like the perimeter of the U.S. Capitol and the White House, and all public and private schools and universities.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, Trump suggested reducing “gun-free zones” and giving educators a financial bonus for undergoing gun training and carrying guns in schools.
Gruber, however, said that arming faculty and allowing concealed carry is not a viable solution for preventing mass shootings.
“Unless you’re somebody who is really trained in the use of firearms, you practice on a regular basis and you are attuned to a high-threat environment, you really shouldn’t have concealed carry in schools and in colleges,” Gruber said. “A professor’s job is to teach students, and them having a weapon is, I don’t think, something that any of us want, especially the professors.”
Citing a 2013 Department of Education school emergency preparedness report, Bennett said that in an overwhelming number of instances when a shooter was stopped before the police arrived, they were stopped by unarmed individuals who incapacitated the shooter.
But Bennett said the possibility of arming GUPD officers warrants further consideration. In Washington, only the University of the District of Columbia and Howard University have armed police officers on campus, according to the Washington Post.
“While I certainly think it’s an absurd idea to have faculty to be carrying guns, it doesn’t seem, on the face of it, absurd to have campus security either carrying them or having them at ready access in their central station,” Bennett said. “To the extent that they don’t have quick access to firearms should they need them, I think that’s something that bears looking at.”
While Bennett advocates for gun control measures such as background checks and assault weapon bans, at the national level, he said the gradual pace of this change still spells danger in a country with over 300 million guns in circulation.
In the interim, Bennett said localized preparedness is still the best way to combat gun violence.
“Addressing the bigger problems, even in the best of circumstances, takes time, and so in the meantime, we have to take sensible measures to be prepared, and I think that’s training and prevention,” Bennett said.