Model Programs/Best Practices

Campus Video Shows “The Ways Out” of an Active Threat Situation

Location: Wisconsin By Becky Lewis Published March 2014

In baseball, there are three outs in an inning. According to a video produced by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department, in an active threat situation, there are five.

“Preventing Mass Casualty Shooting in a Campus Setting,” originally produced in 2008 and updated in 2013, emphasizes five strategies students, faculty and staff should remember if they ever find themselves faced with an active threat:

  • Get Out.
  • Call Out.
  • Hide Out.
  • Keep Out.
  • Take Out.

Chief Susan Riseling explains the strategies grew out of post-event analysis of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, which indicated far lower rates of casualties in classrooms where students took some kind of action rather than simply staying in place and waiting for help to arrive. The department coupled that analysis with a look at the reactions of the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, and developed the strategies outlined in the video.

“We start with ‘Escape:’ Evacuate if you can, that’s the first and most important thing to do. Summon help, call 911, and then don’t call/tweet/text a whole bunch of other people and fill up the circuits,” Chief Riseling says. “If you can’t get out, then hide anywhere you can conceal yourself. If getting into a closet won’t, or doesn’t, work, then prevent entry by blocking the door with whatever is nearby, even if it’s only a notebook. A pile of tables and chairs could slow a person down enough for law enforcement to get there in time.”

The fifth and final message is that if all else fails, fight back: “After Columbine, the nation’s schools started running drills where they taught elementary school students to turn out the lights, huddle in a corner and listen to the teacher, and hope that danger passes by. When they reached high school and college, all they’d been taught was to be quiet and listen to the teacher. We want them to understand that they’re now able to think and take action for themselves.”

The strategies outlined in the video came to national attention through several avenues after the Aurora theater shooting, Chief Riseling says, and since that time she has given numerous presentations across the country on strategies for dealing with active threats. Several universities have produced their own videos modeled on “Preventing Mass Casualty Shooting in a Campus Setting,” while others have asked for a copy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison video. For those who ask, Riseling says, the department will provide a copy and charge only reproduction costs: “There are other videos out there made by for-profit companies, but that’s not for us. As long as it helps, that’s all I care about.”

The university uses the video as part of an hour-long training program that first and foremost emphasizes prevention through being alert to warning signs. Showing the video is the last step in the training. (Both the original seven-minute version and the five-minute update were shot on and around the 936-acre Madison campus, where Riseling and her staff of 70 sworn officers, 54 security officers and 25 administrative personnel have responsibility for 66,000 students, faculty and staff.)

“The university has lots of strategies for getting troubled individuals off a path that can led to violence. Lots of work goes on in that area every day in hope that our students never have to use the strategies from the video,” Chief Riseling says.

Chief Riseling has led the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department since 1991. She is a nationally recognized subject-matter expert in date and acquaintance rape, crowd management and active shooter prevention.