The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Reserve Officer Training Corps instructs its students to protect the country, and it also ensures students know how to protect themselves on campus.
The Navy and Air Force UNL ROTC branches provide active shooter trainings at least once a year to prepare students in the battalions to effectively react to an active shooter event if one were to occur on campus.
According to Lt. Paul Hast, an officer instructor for the U.S. Navy and UNL NROTC’s surface warfare department, NROTC gives its students classroom instruction and hosts a table talk conversation with UNL’s Police Department each year.
Capt. Travis Horner, U.S. Marine Corps and NROTC’s Marine officer instructor, said the training prepares NROTC students to respond as a normal student would.
“We’re not set up as a quick reaction force,” he said. “We are a pseudo-military organization. The staff is all active-duty military, the students are not. They are just college students who aspire to be.”
Under the university’s Run, Hide, Fight procedure, students learn to first try to run by exiting the building if possible. If they are unable to do so, students are encouraged to hide and barricade themselves. As a last resort, they should try to fight the intruder.
“It’s one of those scenarios that there’s no real defense for,” Horner said.
During the informal table conversation, NROTC staff and students talk with UNLPD about police response in the event of an active shooter on campus.
“The important thing for us is to have regular constant communication with law enforcement here,” Hast said. “It’s important to have at least an annual table talk.”
Air Force ROTC puts active shooter training into practice with an annual drill conducted by UNLPD, according to Lt. Col. Mario Perez. He said it also prepares students to emphasize safety in their future careers.
“Safety of our service members once commissioned into the U.S. Air Force is critical to ensure we are able to continue our mission of defending the United States,” Perez said.
A student in the program who asked to remain anonymous said it was difficult to carry out the procedure in a real-life scenario, even with classroom training.
The drill included a series of simulated gunshots. After hearing them, the student said they had about a minute to react.
“Our drill shows us that it is difficult to react so quickly,” the student said. “Especially for students who are ill-prepared.”
Active shooter training is a part of the nationwide force protection training mandated by the Navy, Hast said.
“The important part of the training is coming in with everybody at a baseline understanding of how real the threat is and the immediate actions of what to do if it went down,” he said.
While military buildings have extra protection, such as gates and weapons, Hast said ROTC is a university entity and can only defend itself like any other department on campus.
Even though many universities don’t require student safety training, some have turned to outside organizations to educate their students on active shooter protocol.
SafeColleges, an entity of Vector Solutions, works with a number of schools in the Big Ten on strategies to prevent and respond to active shooter incidents, Donna McMullin, the vice president of marketing for Vector Solutions' education business unit, said.
“Gun violence on campus, including active shooter situations, has increased and schools are the second most common location for one to occur,” she said. “It’s important that higher education institutions proactively and effectively train all campus members on what to do if the inevitable should happen.”
Hast said it’s best to be prepared for whatever situation may occur.
“You can’t train enough,” he said. “There’s no such thing as too much training.”
Although students, faculty and staff hope an active shooter event never occurs, Horner said it’s important to stay cognizant of the possibility.
“It’s one of those hard things, it’s not a great subject that you want to think about,” he said. “But it happens in places across the country, and the people always say ‘I never thought this would have happened here,’ while they’re in the movie theater or while they’re in their church congregation or while they’re on a school campus.”
This article was originally published in the April/May 2019 special edition of The DN.