Students learn how to respond in violent situations


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LeeAnn Yeckley entered a training room at the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety wielding a red rubber gun.

Instantly, the 22 other “potential victims” pelted the UI graduate student with yellow Styrofoam balls.

In this situation, called “the swarm,” the balls represented different objects that can be thrown at an attacker before several brave people in the room attempt to bring the person to the ground and get control of the weapon.

The staged active-shooter scenario — part of a Violent Incident Survival Training class offered by the UI police — was designed to teach students available options during a dangerous incident.

The two-hour class, which officials started last spring, has prepared approximately 1,000 UI faculty, staff, and students to deal with violent incidents on campus through five simple steps: alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate.

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The Tuesday group learned how to distract, disarm and take down an active shooter, as well as how to secure a classroom by thinking out of the box and using inatimate objects — like a belt — to tie a door closed to prevent entry of a gunman.

In the second hour of class, officers stormed the room armed with rubber guns to provide a realistic simulation of how police would storm a locked-down room during a violent incident, yelling for the group to put their hands in the air.

While faculty and staff have previously made up the bulk of the participants, UI police are now extending a special invitation to students. They have specifically targeted resident assistants and hope to offer classes for students in the greek community and in dorms.

“[Police] know what to do in [violent] situations, but the faculty, staff and students don’t know what to do,” Lt. Joe Lang said. “We feel they need the knowledge to protect themselves in a violent situation until we can get there to help them.”

Lang said the department decided to offer the class in response to the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings and other violent incidents.

“When we saw the destruction and ... how their students couldn’t protect themselves, we kind of felt like we were putting ourselves and our students in a liability situation,” Lang said.

The UI is one of 84 colleges and universities with violent-incident-certified instructors, and Lang said he believes the interactivity of the program sets it apart from those of other universities.

Capt. Tim Potts of Purdue University — whose program offers an online video and conducts class presentations upon request — said he would be interested to learn more about the UI’s hands-on violent-incident training.

University of Texas-Austin, which has experienced two shootings in its history, runs a training program similar to the UI’s based on “Five Outs,” said Rhonda Weldon, the university’s operations director of communications. The program also teaches students about warning signs and runs a Behavior Concern Advice Line.

UI freshman Jenna Miller said she feels more confident after taking the class.

“I would have a better idea of what to do, and I could be more successful [because of the training],” said Miller, who recalled two shootings in her hometown of Omaha. “I think it’s a lot less likely that I’m going to get in that situation and freeze.”

UI police Capt. Shawn Sharp stressed being prepared.

“If you are made aware of your surroundings you will, hopefully, never get into a dangerous confrontation,” Sharp said. “But no matter what you decide to do, you have to mentally commit to it, be it run, play dead, or attack — and that’s scary, so you can’t go in half-hearted.”

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