Five months after America’s deadliest school shooting, GW is training staff and faculty on methods they can use to diffuse volatile situations before they become fatal.
The Violence Awareness and Mitigation Program, created by the University Police Department, teaches community leaders how to detect threatening behavior, communicate important information and physically disarm attackers. It was created after the deadly shootings at Virginia Tech, UPD Chief Dolores Stafford said, because many staff members felt vulnerable.
“It’s a direct response to the fact that violence can happen anywhere at any time,” Stafford said. “Virginia Tech just reminded us of that.”
VAMP is the first training program of its kind in the nation, she said. Unlike the University-wide contingency plans, it concentrates on how GW employees can protect themselves individually. The general student body is not permitted to participate, though student leaders are encouraged.
“There’s things taught in the program that we would not teach to the general student body,” Stafford said.
This summer GW Housing Programs staff and other administrators gathered in Strong Hall for a pilot version of VAMP. Armed with fake weapons, participants practiced quickly disarming and controlling their attackers.
Corrine Farrell, a community director in Thurston Hall, said it was interesting to learn about the subtle indicators of a dangerous individual. A student moving very choppily and repeatedly clenching their fists could pose a threat, she said.
“(The program) talked about what was the straw that breaks the camel’s back and how to see if someone is looking like they are going to attack or going to run away,” Farrell said.
She added that the purpose of the training is to prevent a heated situation from escalating.
Director of Student Judicial Services Tara W. Pereira said after participating she feels more confident identifying a potentially threatening situation before it becomes violent.
“This class helped me think of the logical progression, from detecting the signs to what you do when someone is actually holding a gun at you,” Pereira said.
She added that communication is also a key part of the training.
“If I am concerned about a student, we would communicate that up the chain and make sure the student gets the help they need,” she said.
Some of the program’s physical lessons, such as how to take down an attacker, stem from tactics provided by Pressure Point Control Tactics professionals. PPCT is a law enforcement training program within the Homeland Security Corporation.
Tom Jost, executive vice president for operations at Homeland Security Corporation, said the Virginia Tech tragedy spurred a nationwide re-examination of emergency planning.
“Across the board in education we’re seeing a lot more attention on security-related things and a lot more training of faculty and staff on how to respond to those things,” Jost said.
“It’s incumbent on the educational facilities themselves to take some initiative and pass on some training to their staff,” he said. Jost added that many conflicts end before police arrive.
Programs such as VAMP provide necessary comfort for the community, said John Petrie, the assistant vice president for Public Safety and Emergency Management at GW. Petrie’s office creates contingency plans for the University in the event of an emergency.
“The fundamental benefit that comes from it is that you’re giving people the reason to be confident about their own readiness,” Petrie said.
Recent government studies have found that school shooters do not fall into one stereotype. Petrie said because of this, it is important to have a lot of people with the proper skill set to identify harmful behavior.
“Almost anyone can find themselves in a position where they are alienated, frustrated and something causes them to snap and they strike out at others,” Petrie said.
“Since you can’t say ‘This is the profile of what you should be looking for,’ the issue is what behavior should cause you to react in a given way.”