How to prepare for an active shooter on the BYU campus

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Matt Widmer
From left: Spencer Moore and Bryson Caskey treat patients during BYU’s mock mass casualty incident — in this case, an imagined chemical explosion — in October 2016. EMTs would use the same skills learned during mock mass casualty incidents in the event of a real mass shooting on campus. (Matt Widmer)

The Las Vegas massacre on Oct. 1 left 58 dead and around 500 wounded. Now, BYU students may be wondering what to do in the event of an active shooter on campus.

“I think BYU’s doing a fantastic job being prepared,” said Lt. Steven Messick of the BYU Police Department. “I think BYU has a good handle on what is needed and they’re continually … (trying) to adapt to those kinds of things.”

Sign up for emergency alerts

Messick said when emergencies happen, alerts are sent out through BYU’s Y-Alert system.

“That will send out an alert to text message or phone message,” he said. “That’s why everybody should make sure that their information is correct on their screen.”

To check whether their information is current and correct, students should log in to myBYU and go to the Communications tab. From there, they can select Personal Information, then the Contact tab. That’s where students can enter any combination of a cell phone number for text alerts, up to four regular phone numbers for voice calls and an email address for email alerts.

“In that alert, we may tell you to … evacuate this (particular) building or we may tell you to (take) shelter in place,” Messick said.

Evade or engage

Messick said people who encounter an active shooter have two choices. The first is to evade, which is “a great option,” according to Messick.

“Maybe you can’t get out, so you’re going to hide and shelter in place,” Messick said.

The other is to engage.

“There comes a point where, if you’re trapped in an area and this person’s coming, you have to decide, ‘What are the things that I could do?’” Messick said.

Messick said a person could buy time using chairs, books or other surrounding items as weapons. He also said a person in an active shooter situation should make a plan with the people around them. 

Giving assignments is a great way to make a plan, Messick said.

“It’s not a partial thing. It is all-out full-out, I’m saving my life, I’m saving somebody else’s life,” he said.

In addition, Messick said BYU students should check out the University Police website training resources. Under the Crime Prevention tab is an Active Shooter Preparedness Training tab, where students can access video training such as “Flash Point!” and “Run-Hide-Fight.” Messick also highly recommends a YouTube video called “20 to Ready: Active Shooter.”

Seek aid

Y-Alert isn’t the only way BYU prepares to protect its students in case of an emergency. BYU student and campus EMT Keith Menser said BYU has a strong Emergency Medical Services program with about 50 highly trained EMTs.

“We’re (also) in constant communication with the fire department that has paramedics here in Provo, which is a great program,” he said.

Menser, a 23-year-old junior studying public health, said in the event of an active shooter or any other mass casualty incident, a text would go out asking all able and available EMTs to report to the scene. Police and SWAT teams would ensure the area is secure, and then EMTs would work alongside paramedics to administer basic life support as patients are transported as quickly as possible to hospitals. 

Carlee Raymond
Andrew Larson and two students from the BYU nursing program carry a patient during BYU’s March 2017 mock mass casualty incident — in this case, the aftermath of an imagined terrorist driving through campus during a crowded passing period. (Carlee Raymond)

Campus EMTs practice for these kinds of events during each year’s mock mass casualty incident, where student volunteers receive realistic-looking wounds with make-up from BYU’s theater department. 

Past imagined scenarios have included chemical explosions and a terrorist driving through campus during a crowded passing period.

In fall 2016, the EMS department imagined what would happen if an active shooter were in the Varsity Theater. The EMTs then respond to these situations as they would real ones.

Menser, who began with the EMS department in January 2017 and became an officer this semester, said someone who’s been shot during an active shooting situation should control the bleeding as much as possible until medical help arrives.

“You do what you need to do to prevent massive bleeding and those sorts of things, as well as specifics of getting to a safe location (and) getting in touch with those that you’re with,” he said.

So how likely is it that an active shooter situation would actually occur at BYU?

“In this day and age, you just don’t know,” Messick said. “We could be talking and all of a sudden I could get a call and it could be going on right now.”

However, he added it’s important not to be paranoid or frightened.

“That’s just no way to live,” he said. “But you do want to be prepared as much as you can.”

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