New U.Va. video an unfortunate, necessary tutorial about carnage on campuses

August 22, 2023 12:05 am

(Getty Images)

You never see the face of the handgun-wielding attacker in a new instructional video that all University of Virginia students must now view. In that way, the glove- and hoodie-wearing assailant stalking people on campus is unknown, mysterious.

Sadly, suspects in many real-life campus attacks in the commonwealth and elsewhere revealed disturbing signs that something was “off,” they were prone to violence or were otherwise psychologically troubled. People who knew them attest they were unstable – at least in retrospect.

They weren’t strangers at all.

Surviving such incidents – and recognizing clues about potential harm from individuals – are discussed in the seven-minute video called “Active Attacker Training and Response.” The emergence of the video, first reported in The Cavalier Daily, comes after authorities say a U.Va. student killed three football players and wounded two other students last November on a charter bus returning to campus.

It’s lamentable that students must now add this type of video to their toolbox, like some required university-wide course.

It’s also necessary.

From the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 to Bridgewater College last year, from Northern Illinois University in 2008 to Michigan State in February, we’ve all become increasingly familiar with deadly gun violence on campuses of higher learning. It would be a dereliction of duty if administrators didn’t arm students with more techniques to avoid injuries – and death.

“Students will be required to complete the active attacker training and response module every two years,” U.Va. spokeswoman Bethanie Glover told me by email, noting it was produced specifically for Jefferson’s university. “Faculty and staff are strongly encouraged to view the video as well. Over 5,800 employees have completed the active attacker module thus far.”

The fall semester begins today.

“We recognize that some students may not wish to view the video due to a personal experience with past trauma,” Glover continued. “As such, we will grant an exemption to anyone who requests it.”

Such exemptions probably do more harm than good.

Everyone should be aware of the “Run, Hide, Fight” protocol that’s touted in the video; it could mean the difference between life and death. The FBI developed the practice and it’s been used for decades, according to published reports.

In short, authorities suggest people faced with armed attackers should first run from the threat if possible until they can get somewhere safe. If running isn’t possible, they should hide and barricade themselves – in a locked office, for example.

And lastly, fight the attacker – preferably as a group – with whatever makeshift or other weapons they can find. Is a fire extinguisher, garbage can, pole or something similar available? Put the items to use. That beats confronting a shooter with nothing at all.

The staged demonstration on U.Va.’s campus in the video may trigger some students. The double entendre wasn’t intended, I’m sure.

But students, faculty and staff would be better off knowing the best ways to respond instead of seeking an exemption. Too many mass shootings have occurred on college campuses, in retail stores and municipal centers for us to ignore such threats.

Richmond’s post-graduation mass shooting reflects America’s gun violence epidemic

They’re not entirely common. They’re no longer unique, either.

The extent to which such videos are effective is debatable, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor told The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress. Still, I’ve got to believe some training beats no preparation whatsoever.

A spokesman for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia said state code requires that each public college or university have a threat assessment team. There’s no legislation mandating the video training similar to what U.Va. has implemented, though, Bob Spieldenner told me by email.

Stylistically, the nearly six-minute “Run. Hide. Fight.” video that Norfolk State University offers its students is more realistic; actors don’t break the third wall, as in the U.Va. video.

The setting is a tall office building. The shotgun-wielding attacker isn’t masked. He guns down a security guard and various employees a little more than a minute into the footage, repeatedly firing at random.

The latter video urges everyone to have a plan in case the unthinkable happens. “Unfortunately, you need to be prepared for the worst,” the narrator warns. “ … First and foremost, if you can get out, do.”

Remember the most important thing is you, not your stuff, he says. Leave belongings behind.

Ready Houston produced the video, according to the YouTube spot. Ready Houston, which  provides emergency preparedness information for a region in Southeast Texas,  has created footage to help train citizens in a variety of situations.

It’s a shame such instructions are even necessary. It’s important, however, to take advantage of them.


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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]