After hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped through Louisiana, an LSU-based national training center used the disaster preparation and recovery lessons of local colleges and universities to create a short course to help other higher education institutions across the U.S. prepare for similar emergencies.
Since the February mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, officials with LSU's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training Center have redeveloped much of that program, customizing it into a course focused on what to do if a university is faced with an active shooter on campus.
Jerry Monier, the center’s associate director of research and development, said they received several calls from across the country requesting a one-day course on active shooter emergencies after a teenage gunman's rampage through the high school campus claimed the lives of 17.
The existing 16-hour course, titled Campus Emergencies Prevention, Response and Recovery, had already been expanded over the years to address both man-made and natural disasters.
“Condensing this curriculum into an eight-hour course works well for the educational community or for the teachers and the ancillary professors within the school campus,” Monier said. “We still have our 16-hour course and that’s tailored more for the crisis response teams for campuses.”
The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sparked marches and school walkouts in Louisiana and across the nation as well as discussions about how schools should prepare for such emergencies, from possibly arming teachers to equipping students with bulletproof backpacks.
Apparently preparedness education is part of the equation, too, as 16 groups are scheduled to take the new course, which launches in May, while another nine sessions of the 16-hour course are on the books over the next three months, Monier said. He has seen requests for the original course increase after news of the school shootings, and he expects an even higher spike in requests as the summer months and in-service trainings draw near.
Center officials tout the class as the only eight-hour course of its kind without a participant fee because Department of Homeland Security's National Training Program funds it.
The new course addresses concepts like threat analysis and communication strategies and culminates with a tabletop active shooter scenario where the class responds based on their current policies. Monier said he wants attendees to “walk out of the classroom after the class is over and really think about, ‘okay what are the next steps that we need to do to not only respond, but to recover.’”
That’s exactly what happened for Sgt. Dan Lalor, a shift supervisor with the St. Louis University Department of Public Safety. He took the original course last summer and is applying the experience now as he updates his department's policies, which he does annually. Lalor left the course feeling generally reaffirmed in his department’s policies, but said he values the experience of having networked and compared procedures with other universities.
“I just remember feeling like … no matter what university or college we’re at, we’re all dealing with exactly the same issues,” Lalor said.
A year before Lalor completed the training, Louisiana Homeland Security professional Barrett Nugent took the same course in Lafayette a few months after a 58-year-old gunman fatally shot two people and injured nine others at a local movie theater.
While active shootings were only part of the course Nugent attended, he said, it addressed the intimidating concept by bringing in real scenarios and breaking them down.
“These courses … take away the fear factor,” Nugent said. “They put it into context and not only how to respond to it, but how to prepare for it prior. Those proper preparations are what make people feel better.”