Santa Rosa Junior College Police Chief Matt McCaffrey doesn't want to scare anyone, but the campus chief wants students and staff ready should a shooter strike on campus.
McCaffrey, now in second year as chief after nearly three decades in the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department, is trying to get both students and staff across the Santa Rosa Junior College system to think about what they would do in the case of an active shooter. To that end, he hosts six voluntary seminars a year focusing on decision making, situation assessment and remaining focused and calm.
"Half the battle is getting people to think about it and think about it, and be as calm as you can be," he said.
Thinking about it usually means changing just about everything some people have learned about emergency preparedness and what to do should disaster strike, he said. Shootings are unlike any other kind of emergency.
"It's not a fire drill, it's not 'If a fire happens, line up here,'" he said. "It's not any other drill. It's a living, breathing thing."
Campus officials are also conducting a facilities audit that McCaffrey hopes will create a full picture of the nearly 100-year old school's various door styles and lock systems.
For anthropology professor Mara Vejby, the session last week on the Santa Rosa campus was a reinforcement of ideas she presents to her students at the start of each semester.
Vejby said she has analyzed her classrooms — she teaches at both the Santa Rosa and Petaluma campuses — to share with students the ins and outs of the room, literally.
"It's my responsibility to know that classroom, know the exits, know the way in and out, and then to advise as to what I think is best," she said. "If they trust me, great. I'm not going to argue with them."
Vejby said she has concerns about her Petaluma classroom because of the large windows and exit routes that lead to an open quad, but said sessions like McCaffrey's help keep her thinking about safety.
That is key, said Mike Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit campus safety program based in Georgia.
In college environments where students are adults and perhaps less likely to follow the lead of a teacher than an elementary-aged student, instructors instill confidence by showing students they are prepared, he said.
"One of the ways it to teach them, 'We've got this. We are prepared for this,'" he said. "Most people, most of the time, can do pretty well, if you give them the right information."
College campuses can present unique challenges because they are typically open, sprawling and accessible to more than just students and staff. Santa Rosa's Mendocino Avenue campus stretches across 115 acres.
"It actually requires more innovation on the part of higher ed. They have to work harder," Dorn said of instilling safety protocols.
College President Frank Chong said drills and training sessions, while potentially unnerving, can provide confidence should an emergency actually occur.
"The best way is to be prepared for any type of emergency," he said. "Active shooter has unfortunately risen to the point where you have to address it and be prepared."
Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.