Even at a restaurant, as most of his fellow patrons relax and turn their attention to company or phones or both, Frederick Creek does not let down his guard.
No, when Southern Oregon University’s director of campus public safety enters an establishment, the first thing he does is scan the room and take mental notes. Where are the exits? What’s the layout? Where are the potential threats? And if a server tries to seat him in the middle of the room, he’ll politely decline. Only a booth against a wall, please, he’ll say. For Creek, it’s worth the wait.
Taking such precautions may sound extreme to some, but that’s part of what adopting a “survivor mind-set” requires, says Creek, who led an active shooter defense class Wednesday in the Stevenson Union arena room.
“I think about it all the time, the what-if scenarios,” Creek said. “It’s really important for you to do. How many of you walked in here and knew that there was an exit over here?”
About 40 hands went up.
“Exactly,” he said. “So those are the things you have to look for, those are the things you have to pay attention to. And if a bad guy does come in here, what would I do? What are my options? Where would I go?”
The class was as much about asking those questions daily as it was about answering them. Seventy chairs were set up for the hourlong session, and all but about 10 of those were filled by the time Creek introduced himself at 12:30 p.m.
The lecture, the first of four scheduled over three successive Wednesdays and one Thursday, was held a week after the school was shut down over a threatening note found in a bathroom on campus and less than two weeks after eight students and a teacher were killed by a lone gunman at Umpqua Community College.
Creek’s audience Wednesday consisted mostly of professors and faculty members, but several students also showed up. He began the class with a 30-minute video, then opened up the floor for a question-and-answer session.
The video used dramatizations and interviews with experts and law enforcement officers to illustrate the best strategies for surviving an active shooter incident. One running theme echoed Creek’s instruction: getting out alive often comes down to the victim’s mentality.
“(Survivors),” one expert said, “do whatever it takes to survive … a critical incident.”
Some of the advice could be classified as review for anybody who’s spent a few hours watching CNN over the last 10 days, but not all. A few nuggets:
• For those whose experience with guns is derived exclusively from television shows and movies, a real-life gunshot may sound fake, like a cap gun or firecracker.
• Once you realize you’re in an active shooter situation, use all your senses to build your awareness.
• Get out of the building fast and do not wait for others to validate your decision.
• Do not huddle together with other victims for protection or mutual support.
• Once law enforcement arrives, do not point at them or approach them. Raise your arms, spread your fingers and drop to the floor.
Luke Yeates, an 19-year-old freshman from Sacramento, said he felt compelled to come after the most recent shooting and afterward was glad he did.
“It was good,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to expect coming here and I came because I was afraid of all the things that are happening. I’m glad that they had this going on.”
What was his biggest takeaway?
“That I have to make decisions that are going to help me the most,” he said, “and kind of just forget about everything else.”
Kim Gabriel, a placement coordinator in SOU’s education department, said she was deeply impacted by the UCC shootings as well as the threatening note, which was found in a bathroom in the building where she works.
“What happened at UCC has been overwhelming,” she said. “I felt really uncomfortable coming into my office. I’m down the hall kind of by myself, so I would lock my door or I didn’t come to work and I’d work from home. So it really puts people on edge.”
Gabriel said Wednesday’s class was time well spent.
“I liked the ‘Think like a survivor,’” she said. “Once you make a decision, you go for it. You can’t waffle. If you’re going to go after him, if you’re going to go out that door, you need to react right away. If you have a suspicion, immediately you act on it because it’s a critical time. That was really helpful to me.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.