Preparation and prevention
Across the Loyola community, resources are in place to address the needs of the University community in the event of a shooting—and to help keep one from happening
By Daniel P. Smith
As Ben Feilich watched the events unfold in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, he was particularly invested. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a lone gunman killed 17 individuals, sits 30 minutes from Feilich’s childhood home. His father, meanwhile, teaches biology at a nearby high school.
“It could have just as easily been my old high school that had been attacked, or my dad’s,” said Feilich, a contract analyst with Loyola’s Health Sciences Division Contract Administration Office. “This particular news, suffice it to say, hit close to home.”
For Feilich, Parkland’s tragedy also sparked an unsettling recognition: such events, from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook, remain an unfortunate presence in contemporary American society, capable of touching one’s life at any time. In fact, Feilich and his best friend, a Stoneman Douglas High graduate himself, were impacted by a comparable attack in 2014 when a gunman opened fire inside the main library at their alma mater, Florida State University. Though Feilich and his friend had both graduated from FSU in 2012 and were no longer on campus, they were both deeply affected by the shooting.
“This is the reality for American schools, elementary through college campuses,” said Feilich.
His point, though sobering, is a necessary one, all the more relevant in the wake of yet another fatal school shooting that’s forever altered lives. “To me,” he said, “it’s all about preparedness and making people across the Loyola community aware of resources, policies, and procedures that can minimize injuries and fatalities in the event of such a disheartening situation.”
From identifying threatening behavior and highlighting responses to an active shooter situation to violence prevention activism and coping with the anxiety such events can incite, Loyola hosts programs and initiatives across its campuses aimed at promoting safety and awareness.
Prevention: The vital first step
Vigilance and information sharing is the critical first step to preventing a human tragedy akin to Parkland. University leadership encourages members of the Loyola community to report disturbing messages, threats, or rumors as well as suspicious activities to faculty, staff, counselors, or the campus police.
To that end, the Behavioral Concerns Team (BCT), a coordinated, centralized body comprised of representatives from Campus Safety, the Wellness Center, Student Services, and other University departments, evaluates reports of concerning student behavior, specifically distressing, disruptive, or potentially destructive actions to oneself or others.
The BCT prizes proactive, early intervention, an effort characterized by its easy-to-file BCT reports. Upon encountering disturbing behavior, any student or staff member can file a report with the BCT online (www.luc.edu/bct) or by calling the BCT hotline at (773) 508-8300.
“We have individuals who see red flags in the classroom or in the residence halls and these reports help us understand how a student is showing up around campus,” said Associate Dean of Students and BCT chairperson Tim Love. He also stresses that contacting BCT is not a substitute for calling Campus Safety or 911 in a pressing emergency situation, such as when someone is threatening harm to themselves or others.
With a report in hand, the BCT will follow up. Sometimes, Love said, a simple conversation brings a swift and suitable resolution; other times, the BCT connects a student to supportive resources, such as counseling or health care.
“If a crisis or dramatic incident has happened on campus, then we’re already too late,” Love said. “If we can identify someone struggling and in need of support they haven’t yet accessed, then we’re in a better position to prevent negative situations from occurring.”
Love calls cultivating a culture of awareness across the Loyola community BCT’s overriding goal and urges people to adhere to an oft-repeated mantra in the post 9/11 world: “If you see something, say something.”
“We want people watching, listening, and aware, not just shrugging off a concern,” he said.
Action: Encountering an active shooter situation
In an active shooter situation, uncertainty and chaos can easily–and understandably–overwhelm. But Loyola has measures in place to drive safety and security.
Notification of any emergency event will be made immediately through various channels ranging from Loyola Alert (www.luc.edu/alert), where individuals can register to receive updates on key campus notifications, to public address systems and digital screens located in many main buildings.
“If something like this were to occur, the first thing is to believe it’s happening, not to rationalize or minimize the emergency,” said Director of Campus Safety Tom Murray. “Take the threat seriously and get yourself out of harm’s way.”
The University hosts a web page (www.luc.edu/safety/active_shooter.html) carrying detailed information on how to respond to an active shooter situation, specifically directing people to run first, hide second, or fight as a last resort. That message is also shared with first-year students as part of the UNIV 101 course, where Campus Safety representatives also promote constant awareness and advance planning.
“As best you can, be aware of your options ahead of time,” Deputy Chief of Campus Safety Ed Mirabelli said.
Locate exits and consider hiding spaces in oft-frequented buildings. Know if and how doors lock in classrooms, labs, or offices. Classrooms and conference rooms on all three campuses are equipped with lockdown devices, so all members of the University community should familiarize themselves with these devices and how to use them in the event of an emergency.
Study best practices for safety in active shooter situations, such as locking and then reinforcing doors with heavy furniture, eliminating noises, and turning off lights. Being prepared for how to react in such a situation can make a dramatic difference in saving lives.
“The police won’t be there immediately, so people will need to think for themselves for a while,” Mirabelli said.
Activism: Championing violence prevention efforts
When it comes to the issue of gun violence, Dr. Mark Cichon simply cannot sit idle.
“The kind of wasted potential for communities, individuals, and families that gun violence brings is just heartbreaking,” said Cichon, professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Stritch School of Medicine.
So Cichon embraces solutions rather than the sidelines. After penning a Chicago Tribune editorial in March 2016 alongside hospital chaplain Rev. Michael Hayes defining gun violence as a public health epidemic every bit as concerning as the Zika virus or heart disease, Cichon began forming a committee of like-minded students and hospital employees eager to address violence prevention in a more strategic way.
“I have a position with some degree of influence and believe working toward a safer world is part of our obligation as a Jesuit institution,” Cichon said.
The upstart committee, comprised of individuals representing public health, pastoral care, the chaplains’ ministry, and others, is currently in the early stages of coordinating the scattered violence prevention efforts taking place across the Loyola community. These include: a follow-up protocol with gunshot victims and their families; a retreat for mothers who have lost children to gun violence; media outreach highlighting gun violence as a critical public health issue; renewing ties with the Chicago-based, violence-interrupting agency CeaseFire; and legislative action intended to spur gun control reform. With a particular emphasis on research and data sharing, the committee is also exploring a potential symposium with other Catholic hospitals and institutions to better align existing violence prevention efforts.
“We want to foster collaboration, publish what’s working, and tap into other successful efforts across the country,” Cichon said. “There’s no one secret ingredient in this recipe, but multiple groups working toward reducing gun violence will help us get the upper hand on this.”
And for others across Loyola pursuing their own violence prevention initiatives, or perhaps inspired to get involved in the cause, Cichon shares a simple directive.
“Email me,” he said. “Let’s get you at the table so we can all move in a unified direction.”
Coping: Easing anxiety and stress
In the aftermath of any tragedy, it’s common for individuals, particularly those impacted by similar prior events, to feel uneasy.
“It’s important to note that feeling stress or anxiety after tragic events is a completely normal reaction,” said David deBoer, associate director of the University’s Wellness Center and a licensed clinical psychologist.
While some might cope by talking with friends and family or diverting their mind to other activities such as exercise or social activities, deBoer said others might best navigate their unsettling emotions with professional support.
Students have access to valuable resources such as the Wellness Center (www.luc.edu/wellness/) and Campus Ministry (www.luc.edu/campusministry/). When feeling apprehensive, deBoer encourages students at Loyola’s Lake Shore or Water Tower campuses to call the Wellness Center. Students can schedule a meeting with a counselor capable of providing tips, education, and coping strategies as well as referrals to other support services if ongoing care is necessary.
Students at the Health Sciences Campus as well as employees on all University campuses, meanwhile, have access to their own counseling services through Perspectives, the University’s employee assistance program (www.luc.edu/hr/professionaldevelopment/perspectives/). This is available at no cost to all employees as well as their families.
“Counseling can be an important piece of feeling at ease and moving forward in a more confident, positive way,” deBoer said.
Particularly in the wake of tragedy, Director of Campus Ministry Lisa Reiter reminds that a core tenet of Jesuit education—learning to be women and men for others—takes on added importance. Acting with kindness and compassion and being a person for others, perhaps by encouraging a dispirited colleague or classmate to seek professional support or challenging unjust societal structures, is central to Loyola’s Jesuit, Catholic mission of building a healthier, safer world.
“We live our lives for others and Christ with love and concern,” Reiter said. “That means fostering community and working to have love flow forth from justice.”