How would AU react in an active shooter situation? AU police outline protocol

AUPD began teaching students active shooter protocol in 2016

How would AU react in an active shooter situation? AU police outline protocol

American University Police Department vehicle parked outside of Mary Gradon Center.

Following a recent series of deadly school shootings across the country, The Eagle sat down with Philip Morse, the assistant vice president of University Police Services and Emergency Management, to discuss what AUPD does to prepare the campus and responders for an active shooter situation at AU.

Morse said students learn about active shooter protocol in a residence hall meeting during orientation at the beginning of the fall semester. An additional memo detailing the protocol is sent out in an email to students each semester, he said.

Lisa Freeman, AU’s director of residence life, said in an email that resident assistants “cover details on how to address emergency situations with students when they move in.”

AUPD advocates for the campus to practice an emergency preparedness training called RUN. HIDE. FIGHT., promoted by the Department of Homeland Security. The protocol suggests having an escape route in mind, hiding in an area out of the shooter’s view and fighting as a last resort when “your life is in imminent danger.”

AUPD Captain Will Sowers and Lieutenant Rima Sifri introduced first year students to “RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.” during orientation presentations in 2016 and 2017, Sowers told The Eagle. They teach freshmen to either evacuate or take shelter in their location during an active shooter situation, Sowers said.

“We would have taught it sooner, but we hadn’t been presenting to students for several years,” Sifri said.

AUPD did not respond to an email from The Eagle asking how they teach protocol to students who arrived prior to 2016.

Additionally, incoming students attending Eagle Summit orientation sessions throughout the summer learn about “RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.” AUPD teaches active shooter protocol to orientation leaders and residence assistants, Sowers said.

AUPD also attend trainings with local first responders, including the Metropolitan Police Department, to practice and learn how the University would act in emergency situations, Morse said.

“On March 15, we had a tabletop exercise where the local police departments, the Department of Homeland Security and American University came together and went through various scenarios that would affect our campuses and locations and how the assets that we have in place would deploy to those places,” Morse said.

AUPD uses “a very unique radio system” that allows AUPD to communicate with the community through shuttle bus speakers and radios of residence hall staff and law enforcement in the area during emergencies, Morse said.

Beyond that, AUPD has the capability to automatically lock doors around campus and send notifications to students outside through the emergency blue phones during an emergency situation, Morse said.

The police department has had one major active shooter scare in recent years. In 2013, an AU student contacted AUPD after spotting a man carrying a holster on an AU shuttle bus. The man turned out to be an off-duty police officer who was the boyfriend of a student. Sifri thought the incident was handled well by her department and by MPD.

“I had gone out to dinner and come back and I almost wasn’t let back on campus by MPD,” Sifri said. “The system worked brilliantly.”

Both Sowers and Morse said practicing lockdown drills would not be practical due to the varying environments around campus.

“The very first thing that’s important -- regardless of any type of drill that you do -- is for someone to be aware of their own environment,” Sowers said. “What we emphasize over a drill is that everyone considers the actions that they can take where they are at any given time.”

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