Preparing for the unthinkable


Maria Harr and Grace Lindsley/Observer

Elliott Llera, Online Editor

On top of a shelf in Capt. Dan Hansberry’s office at the Ellensburg Police Department (EPD) sits a binder. Inside the white, plastic folds lies a plan; one the veteran officer of 23 years hopes he never has to follow.

“It’s pretty elaborate,” Hansberry said. “One of those thick books up there has the whole plan for how to react to a school shooting…It’s the model plan that’s used throughout the entire nation.”

Unfortunately, police departments across the U.S. have found themselves following these very plans at an increasingly alarming rate.

According to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety, an independent organization that tracks school shootings, there have been 150 school shootings in America since 2013, averaging out to almost one shooting per week.

When it comes to mass shootings – defined as an incident involving four or more gun shot victims without a cooling off period –there were 364 in 2013. In 2014, there was a slight drop to 337 mass shootings. The tally for 2015 currently stands at 300.

These statistics make mass shootings seem more like an inevitability than a possibility.



Central’s plan

Michael Luvera, Chief of Campus Police at Central, wants to reassure students that the university has taken several proactive measures to ensure an effective response should a mass shooting ever occur on campus.

“CWU supports a university Police Department that has commissioned and trained officers,” Luvera wrote in an email to The Observer. “We spend considerable time training on active shooter and other dynamic situations.

“In this training we utilize our equipment to ensure that we are ready and capable of dealing with an active shooter response. We do all of this sincerely wishing that we never have to deploy for a situation like this.”

Communication is a vital aspect of ensuring order during any chaotic situation.

During the Virginia Tech massacre that killed 33 people in 2007, groups of students were receiving conflicting messages about whether to stay inside or to evacuate their buildings.

As a response, most universities throughout the nation have adopted an emergency notification system to help streamline information and keep students informed.

Luvera said that Central has implemented both ‘CWU Alert!’ and ‘Desktop Alert!’.

‘CWU Alert’ will send messages to students via phone calls, text messages and emails. It was recently used last February when a magnitude-4.3 earthquake struck near Ellensburg around 1 a.m.

‘Desktop Alert!’ will send messages via any computer connected to the school’s network. Students who own computers connected to the university’s residential network will also receive notifications, so long as they manually opt in to the alert system.

Seattle Pacific University, site of the 2014 shooting that killed one student, conducts emergency active shooter drills as often as university dorms are required to conduct fire drills – once per quarter.

Central also provides training for individuals regarding what they can do in the event of a shooter engaging campus.

“We offer training on personal safety for students, faculty and staff throughout the year,” Luvera said. “Each year on move-in weekend, students spend one and a half hours with me discussing safety. Part of this is active shooter situations and we watch the video ‘Run, Hide, Fight.’”

The faculty and staff training at Central includes a mandatory emergency preparedness course that is required to be completed once every two years. One of the subjects taught in this online program is a 30-minute ‘active shooter’ lesson.

Luvera said that Central isn’t only focused on the actions they’d take during a shooting situation – they’re also taking preventive measures in hopes of intervening before someone decides to pull the trigger.

“CWU has a Behavioral Intervention Team. This team is comprised of staff from University Police, Medical and Counseling and Student Success,” Luvera said. “When deemed necessary we meet and discuss issues or incidents and make decisions on how best our community should deal with it.

“Each can be very different and unique. The concept is that we don’t want people to ‘fall through the cracks’ and not have us reach out to them.”

Luvera added that students should act as a resource to their peers and that nobody should ever hesitate to report concerns, regardless of how minimal they seem at the time.

“See something, say something,” Luvera added.


A mass response

Campus police wouldn’t be the only law enforcement agency to respond to Central in the event of a shooting.

According to EPD Capt. Dan Hansberry, all emergency-response agencies in Kittitas County have signed an Automatic Aid Agreement. This agreement gives every agency in the county jurisdiction to assist one another without having to formally ask for help.

The Automatic Aid Agreement is especially helpful in a city like Ellensburg which finds itself serviced by five different law enforcement agencies; Ellensburg Police Department, Washington State Patrol, the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office, Central’s Campus Police Department, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“We also have an agreement with the city of Yakima for their SWAT services,” Hansberry added.

For tactical reasons, Hansberry was reluctant to disclose the specifics of his department’s response plan to a shooting at Central.

Hansberry did say that the technique of surrounding a shooter and negotiating with him or her – similar to the way a hostage situation is handled – is outdated protocol.

“One of the lessons that came out of early mass shootings like Columbine was that they’re going to keep shooting until they are stopped,” Hansberry said. “The reality is that our procedure is to neutralize the threat as quickly as possible.”

According to Hansberry, responders’ first priority after stopping the shooter is to help victims. Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue has trained in conjunction with law enforcement agencies at Ellensburg High School, rehearsing their school shooting response procedures.

While Emergency Medical Services would be preoccupied with treating victims, Hansberry said that law enforcement would likely be focused on locking down the crime scene and searching for any devices that could have potentially been planted.

As a long time resident of Ellensburg, Hansberry said that it’s difficult to speak hypothetically about a mass shooting occurring anywhere in his town.

“You can ‘what if’ yourself, or worry yourself, but the fact is you just don’t know,” Hansberry said. “I think that if we did ever have an incident like that here, because we are such a close community, you would certainly see an outpouring of support.”