WWU Police car parked in front of the University Police building on Wednesday, Oct. 16. // Photo by Jordan Van Beek
With the number of active shooter situations on the rise, it’s never a bad idea to know how to respond to an unimaginable circumstance.
Western University Police Chief Darin Rasmussen said there hasn’t been an active shooter validated since he began in 2012.. However, it’s always good to be prepared in any emergency situation, Rasmussen said.
“We do train, and we do plan for these things like any emergency,” Rasmussen said. “An act of violence, an active shooter, is going to require a quick response, a thoughtful response and probably coordination with our partners, the Bellingham Police, the sheriff’s office employees [and] the Washington State Patrol.”
If a situation arises where an active shooter is on campus, Rasmussen recommends people should know the ‘run, hide, fight’ model.
“If you can run and get away safely, do it,” Rasmussen said. “That’s probably the best course of action for you and for everybody else. If you can’t run and get away safely, then look around and try and hide in quiet. Pull shades down, turn the lights off, sit quiet, silence your phone, things like that. If you’re left with no other option, you need to fight.”
The university’s Emergency Communications website is a tool for students to understand recommendations in emergency situations. The website includes a Western emergency preparedness video, which gives a broad view of all emergencies including active shooters instances. There is also a video specifically for active shooter preparedness as well as emergency contact information.
As of now, there is no active shooter drill, according to Rasmussen. Due to security purposes, University Police can’t go into specific details on the situation.
Bellingham Police Department’s Public Information Officer, Lieutenant Claudia Murphy, said the city’s involvement can differ.
“Our involvement can be from advisor to actually taking an entire investigation over if that is what the administrations agree upon,” Murphy said. “We would help WWU PD in whatever manner they need us to. It can be from helping them with a track by the use of one of our K-9 teams, to having one of our crime scene investigators assist on an investigation, to supplementing their department during an active shooter and assisting in the investigation afterward.”
Paul Cocke, Western’s director of communications and marketing, said he encourages people to say something when there is concern for safety.
“There have been young people and adults in our area where they posted very concerning things on social media and it was seen by other young people, who then were concerned enough, that [they] brought it to the attention of authorities who could head off something before it even could happen,” Cocke said.
Any suspicious behavior observed on campus should be reported to University Police or other authorities. University Police offers an option to remain anonymous when informing authorities about activity that should be reported, such as unusual items or odd behavior from someone. University Police dispatch is a recorded line, but to report an anonymous tip and not be recorded, call the SAFE campus phone number (360) 650-SAFE or 650-7233.
The rise in active shooter stories across the country has encouraged the campus community to educate themselves, take individual responsibility and understand how to run, hide and fight, Rasmussen said.
The Western Alert system was tested Thursday, Oct. 17. It notifies students of campus emergencies through desktop notifications, voice messages over campus fire alarm systems, text messages, emails, posts on the emergency communication webpage and on Western’s Twitter feed.
The test alert said 97% of Western students have provided their cell phone numbers to Web4U to receive emergency text messages.
“Years ago, we were relying on mass email, which is not fast, people don’t look at it,” Cocke said. “Now we have a system called RAVE. We can send out 15 to 20,000 text messages in under a minute once we have the information, and bang, there it goes.”
Along with text messages, Western will always send an email as well to further explain the details of an alert event.
“I think the important thing that I would like the students to know is that Western is a community and we take care of each other in this community,” Rasmussen said. “University Police are part of that community too. So a lot of times when people have their worst day ever, they’re afraid to call the police.”
”I want them to feel comfortable being able to reach out, even if it’s through the anonymous phone to somebody,” Rasmussen continued. “Because honestly, we actually are able to help a lot better when we have the information.”