ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — As Matthew DiMartino sat in his seventh-grade classroom in Angola, New York, listening to his teacher discuss math or science, a gunman shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
DiMartino would not find out about the shooting until later that night. He remembers feeling sorrow and grief for the students and educators killed that day.
But he doesn’t remember any tangible changes in safety policy at his school after Sandy Hook.
Despite other mass shootings taking place during his middle school and high school years, DiMartino said only one event spurred change in his school — the shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.
“I remember coming home from school and seeing the news and wondering if (outcomes) would be different this time,” DiMartino said.
The Parkland shooting changed not only DiMartino's outlook on gun violence; it also changed the practices for school shootings.
“I don’t remember doing any preparations (in high school) before Parkland,” DiMartino said.
Now, many students face the task of understanding how to handle the brutal slaughtering of their peers, anywhere, anytime.
“After (Parkland), we would run drills, where they’d have us move furniture against the walls and sit out of view in our classroom,” DiMartino said.
DiMartino, a political science major, attends St. Bonaventure University, which employs a run-hide-fight strategy to seek safety for its students.
At St. Bonaventure, administrative safety changes have included instituting a new active shooter procedure, additional safety features on campus and a new emergency alert system.
DiMartino said that he had heard of the run-hide-fight-policy at his high school. However, he said lockdown-style drills did not reflect the policy.
Run-hide-fight serves as the most common practice in an active shooter situation, according to Gary Segrue, director of Safety and Security at St. Bonaventure.
“In an active shooter situation, seconds count,” Segrue said. “This system can extend the time you stay alive.”
Seconds do count. In August, a gunman killed nine people in 32 seconds on a street in Dayton, Ohio. Military-style weapons have the capacity to fire hundreds of rounds per minute.
Posters around St. Bonaventure advise “Run. Hide. Fight.” They appear in classrooms and residence halls, all places meant to be accessible to students and faculty if a shooter walked on campus with a gun and intent to kill.
However, the run-hide-fight policy did not always exist at St. Bonaventure. Segrue said he made the choice to institute the policy in 2015.
“I wanted the campus community to have the opportunity to act, think and use their instincts,” Segrue said.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security endorses the run-hide-fight strategy as the most effective one, and Segrue believes the university should stay on par with federal experts’ findings.
Segrue said the average local law enforcement response time ranged from two to four minutes in two prior St. Bonaventure drills. Within two to four minutes, though, the majority of active shooter incidents have ceased, Segrue said.
St. Bonaventure has an open, primarily rural campus. That means anyone can access the campus at any time. Segrue said having an open campus means it can be difficult for law enforcement to track the exact movements of a shooter or to predict a pattern a shooter may form.
Kristen Ryan, a St. Bonaventure lecturer in marketing, said the run-hide-fight policy presents a problem for buildings like the William E. and Ann L. Swan Business Center, which has large open spaces and glass architecture, both in classrooms and in common spaces.
Ryan said she wouldn’t know exactly what to do inside the building if a gunman entered the building intent on ending lives.
“I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no sunlight coming in because of the fear of what could be,” Ryan said. “How do you anticipate something like this? The (shooters’) approaches seem so random.”
Ryan said additional training for students and faculty would benefit the university.
In April 2018, the university ran its most recent active shooter drill, the first one in years.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, an active shooter can be defined as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a conﬁned and populated area.”
Educational institutions and security officials run active shooter drills to prepare stakeholders on and off campus for a gunman on campus. Drills allow faculty, staff, students and law enforcement to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a school’s active shooter policy at the time.
St. Bonaventure’s 2018 drill occurred in the Murphy Professional Building and involved 135 law enforcement officials and six months of coordination and planning.
Responding law enforcement agencies included the FBI, the New York State Police, the New York State Office of Emergency Management, the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office, the Cattaraugus County Office of Emergency Services, the City of Olean Police Department, the Village of Allegany Police Department, the NYS Environmental Conservation Police, the NYS Office of Homeland Security and the Jamestown Community College Campus Safety, according to Segrue.
Segrue said he also invited six ambulance companies to the 2018 drill.
On the day of the drill, police officers and tactical teams trained in active shooter situations entered Murphy. Inside, students and faculty members simulated an on-campus shooting, complete with student “victims.”
Segrue said the officers had mock weapons, including wooden guns and fake cans of pepper spray, and orders to simulate how officers would react if called to the university to intercept a person with murderous intent.
David Kassnoff, a lecturer who was serving as interim dean of the Jandoli School of Communication, which is housed in Murphy, said he remembers the drill taking several hours.
Although the university has not conducted an active shooter drill since April 2018, Segrue said he runs one annual drill involving law enforcement and that includes his sitting with officials, reviewing university policies and ensuring they are up to date.
Segrue said he calls the drills “tabletop exercises.”
“Tabletop exercises are used to clarify roles and responsibilities and to identify additional campus mitigation and preparedness needs,” Segrue said. “The exercise should result in action plans for continued improvement of the emergency preparedness plan which is revised annually.”
Carole McNall, an assistant professor in the Jandoli School, said St. Bonaventure should consider running drills that mirror the 2018 drill more frequently and in different academic buildings.
DiMartino, the sophomore political science major, said he felt uneasy thinking about the possibility of a shooter in an on-campus residence hall.
“I know the university had drills for class buildings,” he said. “I don’t know what would happen if something went down in a dorm, though.”
Resident assistants and residence directors completed several hours of training on emergency situations, including specific, annual training on how to institute the run-hide-fight policy, according to Robbie Chulick, associate director of residential life.
McNall said she doesn’t recall any mandatory training for faculty members.
Segrue said he “can’t make that training mandatory,” noting that the university offers optional online training sessions for its faculty members.
The university has allocated $560,000 for security enhancements, including adding additional security cameras around campus and adding additional points that require identification for entry, both in academic buildings and residence halls.
The university recently completed an upgrade of the emergency alert system that serves as a way to communicate with everyone on campus.
Previously, Segrue said, the campus relied on a steam whistle to alert students, faculty and staff of a grave emergency.
“That system was not ideal. The whistle only worked while the boiler was on,” Segrue said. “If we had an emergency in the summer or if the boiler was out of order, we were out of luck.”
The university now uses a three-speaker system. If a shooter fired a weapon on campus, the speakers would deliver loud messages and alarms to campus residents.
An on-campus security operator can pair the speakers’ messages with E2Campus alerts that students, faculty and staff receive via phone and email when emergencies arise. The operator can customize the messages to give instructions.
The speakers sit on top of Butler Gym, Francis Hall and Shay Hall.
Although the university has plans in place for a shooter on campus, students said they feel uncomfortable with the reality of their world as they see it.
“I shouldn’t have to worry about someone coming to school and killing me,” DiMartino said. “But I do.”
View SBU-TV's report on St. Bonaventure's April 2018 active shooter drill.
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