Memories of the worst school shooting in U.S. history resurface every semester in the mind of Cara Lucia — who, in 2007, was a doctoral student at Virginia Tech University when a gunman killed 32 people.
More than a decade later, Lucia is now teaching sport management at Elon University. Each semester, she spends two to three classes teaching her students what to do if an active shooter came to campus.
“I always tell my students, ‘I’m not trying to make you live from a place of fear.’ This is about us being aware and protecting ourselves and the people of our community,” Lucia said.
During Planning Week— an annual event before the school year where faculty and staff plan for the upcoming year — the university sponsored two voluntary active shooter training sessions for faculty.
Eric Tellefsen, who has been in law enforcement for the past 34 years and helped develop North Carolina’s active shooter response training guide, led the training and focused on the "run, hide, fight” response protocol.
“The more times these things have occurred, the more we realized that lives can be saved when the individual people that are there know what to do,” Tellefsen said.
Tellefsen spent the majority of his law enforcement career with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, where he was a member of a Special Weapons and Tactics Team for 18 years. He broke down law enforcement’s systematic response to an active shooter situation.
The top priority for first responders is to neutralize the gunman. The first law enforcement department to respond to an active shooting at Elon would be the university’s Campus Safety and Police, which is headquartered in Oaks Neighborhood.
According to Joel Thomas, the community liaison sergeant for campus police, the department employs 12 community service officers and 21 police officers, which is more than the number of officers in the town of Elon and Gibsonville police departments. There are usually three to five police officers on campus at all times.
In the event of a shooting on campus, every law enforcement and emergency service department in the surrounding counties would be called in for assistance. Debbie Hatfield, an emergency management coordinator for Alamance County, said she would expect the town of Elon and Burlington police departments to respond more quickly.
At the end of October, Hatfield helped organize an inter-agency active shooter training in Alamance Community College. The simulation brought together 25 local law enforcement and emergency service departments, including five officers from campus police.
“The greatest thing about these trainings is that all of these different agencies work together under one unified command,” Hatfield said. “When we do these trainings together, each department learns to work with others, making the team stronger. These trainings will save lives if an active shooter situation ever takes place in the county.”
The county’s next interagency simulation is planned for 2020, although the date has not been set.