Officer Kurt Bergendahl of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Police talks with students, faculty and staff about how to respond if an active shooter' invades the campus. (KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY BRIAN PASSINO )
Program looks at how people should respond to mass shooting
BY BILL GUIDA
SOMERS â€” As others settle in seats, a fellow student shuffles into the classroom, reaches into his backpack and comes up shooting.
Fast forward through the video shown recently by University of Wisconsin-Parkside police officer Kurt Bergendahl: Same scene, same student, same handgun.
This time another student flings a wastebasket, striking the gunman before he can take aim and fire. Several students quickly pin him against a wall, then take him to the floor, disarming and holding him, while others dial the police.
The difference: panic and mass casualties versus potential catastrophe averted as mentally prepared individuals take out the potential attacker â€” literally the difference between death and life, as Bergendahl recently told a small but rapt audience of Parkside faculty, staff and students.
“These things happen fast â€” in minutes. We want to open your eyes to what you can do,” stressed Bergendahl, a state-certified instructor who teaches defense and arrest tactics.
The principles of surviving and possibly preventing mass shootings â€” many of them simple â€” don’t just apply to the campus environment but also to workplaces in general, church, shopping centers and anywhere people gather, he added.
Bergendahl stressed that people need to be aware of their surroundings, with an eye toward escape routes, hiding places and defensive weapons.
“What do we have in this room we can use as weapons? Everything,” Bergendahl said.
“Remember what you’re going to do as individuals,” he urged. “This is valuable information you can use anywhere. Go home and share this.”
He next posed a seemingly simple question, followed by another: “How many of you have our campus police emergency number programmed into your cell phones? Who knows the number?”
Those present responded with silence. No hands were raised. Bergendahl nodded.
Dialing 911 gets the Kenosha Police and County Sheriff’s Department. Dialing 2911 alerts campus police, who can respond immediately, Bergendahl said.
Those able to call police should be prepared to provide detailed information about the location, the shooter and direction of travel, he said.
“Don’t assume someone else already has called. The more who call, the better,” he said. That raises the urgency level and provides police with more information.
“We’re coming. We’re also not waiting until the tactical teams get here,” he said, noting the campus police department works with area law enforcement agencies in Kenosha and Racine counties on such calls.
He noted that police response has changed since the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. At that time, departments typically waited for a local SWAT team to arrive before going into a building. Now, those closest to the scene get there as quickly as possible, ideally entering as a team of three to four people, Bergendahl said.
Campus police work with other local law enforcement agencies and train together for such events. But with time of the essence, Bergendahl said waiting for outside agencies to respond risks more casualties.
He said shootings sometimes may be prevented by noting behavioral changes in a co-worker, a fellow student and others.
“Take that two seconds” and talk to the person who seems out of sorts. “You always hear, ‘They just snapped.’ That’s bull,” Bergendahl said.
On campus, troubled individuals can be reported to the “red flag” site on the school Web page for immediate assessment, Bergendahl said.
“We’re also talking about faculty and staff, not just students,” he added.
“You guys are our campus community. You dictate what we do. We’re here to educate. I would like to educate on this. I would love for us to do drills, like the fire drills we do here.
“Call us. We’re here to provide a safe learning environment. That’s our job. If you guys think we need drills, voice that to the university,” Bergendahl said.
Kurt Bergendahl of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Police Department talks with students, faculty and staff about how to respond to prevent mass casualties if an "active shooter" invades the campus. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY BRIAN PASSINO )