FAIRBANKS — University of Alaska statewide staff in Fairbanks are getting trained and tested on how to deal with a violent intruder, including a demonstration Wednesday during which a police officer fired a rifle loaded with blank cartridges indoors.
The training sessions coincided with an unfolding mass shooting incident in San Bernardino, California, in which at least 14 people were reported killed.
The shooting came up several times at the university Wednesday.
The ever-lingering threat of such incidents in public places has spurred the University of Alaska to provide information to staff on techniques for fleeing or hiding from a shooter, among other ways to respond. For the Fairbanks staff, several weeks of education culminated in direct training sessions this week at the Butrovich Building, leading up to a scenario-based event next week that will involve someone acting as a violent intruder.
Afterward, the university’s risk managers plan to evaluate the training’s effectiveness and suggest ways to improve it, as needed.
University President Jim Johnsen has made it clear the training is one of his priorities, said Greg Busch, the university’s director of emergency management.
“It’s a continual process. You’re never satisfied,” Busch said.
The number of shooting incidents in the United States is not decreasing, and while the university has long been focused on providing a safe place for people to work and learn, the recent training is “certainly timely,” Busch said.
“Weekly, we have active shootings across this country,” Busch said. “It’s just unfortunate that’s the situation we live in right now.”
Making sure university staff know what sights and sounds they might see and hear in a shooting situation will help them be more alert and make quick decisions to protect themselves and others, Busch said.
Whether at work or elsewhere, if people find themselves in a shooting incident, they should either run, hide or fight the suspect, and — depending on the circumstances — those actions should be considered in that order, Busch said. That is to say fighting should only be considered as the last option, he said.
The university prohibits anyone from bringing firearms onto its property unless the gun is in a personal vehicle, preferably locked, Busch said. Asked if employees have reacted negatively to that rule, perhaps hoping to be better able to defend themselves, Busch said he had not heard comments to that effect.
“I think we’re giving them the two best tools — to get away from that situation and hide before you take any other action,” he said.
As for the experience of hearing gunfire, Busch said, most people have only heard gunshots on TV or outside, at a shooting range, for example. But shots fired indoors sound different, he said.
“We design these buildings to muffle sound, so we don’t have noise pouring over from our coworkers or other areas,” Busch said. “There’ve been so many instances, when you look back at how people describe their experience in an active shooter event, that one of the more common terms you hear is, ‘Boy, it sounded like a pop, pop, pop popcorn outside,’ or, ‘Someone was shooting off fireworks.’ It didn’t sound like a gun.”
“That’s why we’re trying to bring that to them in a controlled environment, so we don’t scare anyone,” he said.
Wednesday afternoon’s session at the Butrovich Building was just one of several, but every seat was taken as about 40 university employees filled the Board of Regents conference room for a presentation by Lt. Kyle Carrington, an officer with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Police Department.
Carrington offered tips on how to run or hide from a violent intruder and when it might be appropriate to fight the person.
The average shooting incident lasts between 10 and 15 minutes, Carrington said. During that time, he said, bystanders have three options: fight, flight or freeze.
“Freezing is the only option that is unacceptable,” Carrington said.
Carrington had brought along an AR-15 rifle and military-grade blank cartridges, which contain gunpowder but not bullets.
“Inside of a building, it’s the best we can do to replicate as close to that sound as they would hear,” Carrington said.
Partway through his presentation, Carrington stepped into the conference room’s foyer, where he loaded the blanks into the rifle. The 40 or so university employees stayed seated in the main conference room, and Carrington hollered that he was about to fire.
With the rifle pointed at the floor, Carrington squeezed the trigger, firing the gun six times, causing a collective jolt among the seated attendees, at least for the first couple shots. The faint smell of gunpowder hung in the room for several minutes.
After the presentation, Heather Arana, who works in the university’s statewide human resources department, said the training had been enlightening, not just Wednesday but also the previous days’ sessions that she had not attended, in which Carrington had also fired the rifle.
“It was loud, but my office is directly above this room, and I have not heard any shots at all over the last couple days,” Arana said. “So it was very informative to realize that the sound doesn’t travel within the building and things could be happening very close to our offices and have staff completely unaware. I think that was really good, that we should pay attention to secondary things like lots of stampeding feet or anything that’s tertiary to the actual situation, that we wouldn’t necessarily hear those shots being fired.”
“Considering how loud it was in here, and we’re directly in the suite above here, I didn’t hear it at all,” she said.
Contact staff writer Casey Grove at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @kcgrove.