The phrase “school shooting” is likely one you hear more often than you used to, and more often than you’d like to. These heart-dropping words make students and instructors alike wonder whether their institution, or even themselves, will be the next active shooting victim.
At Willamette in particular, this risk feels especially low because our campus is not known for emergency incidents, whether that be shooting events, robberies, natural disasters or even extreme cold weather. In essence, we don’t live in an area prone to natural disasters or violence, so the concern for such incidents is relatively low.
Despite the low risk for these events, the University prepares for potential emergencies in the event that they do occur. According to the Director of Campus Safety Ross Stout, Willamette has been able to sufficiently respond to emergencies in the past and therefore hasn’t had many disasters resulting in serious injuries.
Despite this effective preparation, WU needs to have more drills to better inform students of the risks involved and make the potential consequences of emergencies seem more real.
One reason to actualize disasters is because perceived danger is low. As a result, students don’t take drills as seriously as they should. Throughout Stout’s time working for Campus Safety, Willamette has experienced a variety of emergency events, including fires, floods, and chemical spills. Despite these events being serious at the time, current students would be unlikely to take the possibility of such disasters as seriously as they should. During fire drills, for example, you will likely see students laughing or catching up with friends, rather than taking the purpose of the drill seriously.
Along the same lines, when risk perception is low, dangers don’t seem as threatening. However, most of these emergencies have many risks and should be perceived that way.
Additionally, situations that are seen as controlled feel safer, which is not always true. According to Harvard Health, perceived control over outcomes is a driving factor in how people interpret situations. One example is people are more afraid to fly than drive because they can’t control planes, even though car crashes kill many more people each year.
“WU needs to have more drills to better inform students of the risks involved and make the potential consequences of emergencies seem more real.”
Fires fall into this category because they are prevented for the most part by restrictions on potential fire hazards in dorm rooms, such as microwaves, candles and personal heaters.
To alter the idea that controlled situations lead to safe situations, it is important to increase the risk perception of emergencies when preparing students for them. One way to do so is to have more interactive drills that directly involve the student body, such as portrayals of incidents that raise awareness and bring attention to serious incidents in ways that make them seem more real.
It is also important to consider what students might need to be prepared for when they graduate Willamette and move to different locations where hazardous conditions may be different and require different kinds of preparation. Making students more generally aware of potential disasters will make them more prepared for any environment in which they may find themselves.
The potential for on-campus incidents exist to a variety of degrees, regardless of how the incidents are perceived. There is more the campus could do to prepare for emergencies, as they will impact students’ lives now or in the future.