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Local colleges try to learn from campus shootings

Lisa Socwell.jpg
Lisa Socwell

ROCHESTER – In the wake of multiple college campus shootings, most recently on the campus of Seattle Pacific University, local colleges are taking a closer look at their own emergency plans.

Both the University of Minnesota Rochester and Rochester Community Technical College are often improving their own emergency plans in response to shootings across the country.

"As we learn more about how the events come to be, we are constantly evolving," said Michelle Pyfferoen, the dean of academic affairs at RCTC.

At the UMR, security officials consider more than just their own campus.

"I feel like internally, it's always a concern because of our proximity to a shopping mall," said Lisa Socwell, the UMR facilities and operations coordinator.


Because every shooting incident varies, school officials at the UMR rely on the public announcement system and their ability to text the students and warn of any danger. Students are then encouraged to shelter in place and lock any doors. There are some doors on campus that are locked automatically when an alert goes out.

RCTC also has an alert system to reach their faculty, staff and students, and is hoping to have the capability to use their PA system soon. RCTC officials either recommend a lockdown or evacuation, depending on the proximity of the shooter.

Lisa Crane co-founded ALICE, a nation-wide training program aimed at teaching civilians what to do in the time between the start of a shooting and the moment the police arrive. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.

The program was developed by her husband, Greg Crane, a former law enforcement officer, in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. The program goes beyond what many schools and universities practice, which is commonly a lockdown procedure.

"We don't dismiss lockdowns; we just think that if you're going to lockdown, you need to do more than lock the door," she said.

The shooting on Thursday at Seattle Pacific University left one person dead and three injured. Aaron R. Ybarra, a 26-year-old, was taken into custody and booked for investigation of murder.

The suspect was stopped when a Seattle Pacific University student tackled him and sprayed pepper spray into his face. Other students then helped keep the suspect pinned down until police arrived.

The student used what Crane would call a "Counter" measure. The ALICE team advises civilians, including students above the junior high age group, to do anything to make a shooter less likely to shoot accurately.


"I think people have to be able to use whatever they have available to them, whether that be pepper spray or a book ... to disrupt his ability to accurately get a shot off," she said.

According to Crane, the ALICE team has trained a handful of individuals in Minnesota. Receiving training, however, does not mean the program was implemented.

Neither the UMR nor RCTC encourages their students to attempt to subdue an assailant.

"I don't want to put my students in harms way, but they do know who they need to contact," Socwell said.

Socwell said the UMR has not received training by ALICE, instead relying on the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities for resources, as well as their own security forces. Last December, the UMR hosted a discussion with the top local law enforcement to talk about safety.

"You can't always anticipate exactly what would happen, but for us to build those relationships and get talking was really helpful," Socwell said.

Crane said training as many people as possible is important, because no one knows for sure who will step up and attempt to stop a shooter, like the student at Seattle Pacific University did Thursday.

"You never know in a moment of duress who is going to be the leader," she said. "Some people just have that God-given talent to see through that fog."


In the 2013-2014 academic year, there were 800 students attending the UMR. Socwell said the smaller population can help keep students safe, because they are more likely to notice something new or unusual.

"They always comment on how they feel like a family," she said. "They all know each other."

Socwell said that whenever a shooting happens at another school, UMR officials study the incident to see if they can learn anything from the event.

"I definitely want the community to feel that the students are safe, that their safety is our No. 1 priority, and we are always thinking about it," Socwell said.

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