Prepared for the worst

Kauai Community College and Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, are both schools in rural communities that serve fewer than 5,000 students.

As with most community colleges, most of their student base comes from the area surrounding each school.

Students at both schools attended classes Thursday with their sights set on the weekend, but those who set foot onto the Umpqua campus came face-to-face with a nightmare. About 10:30 a.m., a gunman, Chris Harper Mercer, 26, opened fire in a speech and writing class, killing nine people and injuring seven more, before he was killed in a firefight with police.

This incident is the 41st school shooting this year.

KCC students said they were saddened to hear about the incident. They acknowledged the similarities between the schools, but said they weren’t worried.

“We’re both small schools, but we know everybody here,” said Daniel Reis, 20, who grew up on Kauai. “It’s such a small island.”

Reis explained that most of the high school students on the island play one another in sports and they already know each other before attending KCC.

“If anyone was going to pull a gun out on campus, it’d be someone who came here from off the island,” Reis said. “You know, if they didn’t feel welcomed or were upset because we don’t do things the same way here.”

Nahea Querteo, 20, also from Kauai, said she isn’t worried about campus safety, either.

“I feel safe really safe here,” Querteo said. “Walking around at night is no problem and, I mean, we know everyone.”

Beorn Chantara, 19, from Kilauea, who has spent time on several campuses in New York and Maine, said Kauai Community College is the most laid-back college he’s experienced.

“It feels very safe here,” Chantara said. “You’re always seeing the campus security driving around and there are signs posted with phone numbers to call if you’re in trouble.”

KCC students regularly receive texts and emails with information about weather and schedule changes. Querteo said most students check their email at least once a day and it’s a good avenue for emergency alerts.

“That’d be the way to get information out about if there’s someone on campus with a gun or some other kind of emergency,” Querteo said.

Chantara said he receives those emails, and heeds their warnings, but he doesn’t know anything about the college’s plan for an active shooter scenario.

“I don’t know if the college has an active shooter plan, but I would think that they do,” Chantara said. “If it happened, I would be the kind of person to do something about it and not run away, though.”

Querteo and Reis both said they had no knowledge of a systemwide plan for an active shooter either, but they wouldn’t go down without a fight if the unthinkable happened.

“In that kind of life or death situation where it’s either me or them, I am going to fight,” Reis said. “Most of us think like that.”

Querteo said she thought the students would most likely band together and find a way to eliminate a hypothetical shooter.

“We’d stand together,” Querteo said, “and we’d try to take him down.”

Geraldine Altura and Traci Tokuue, both 20, said they would probably try to hide or escape the area if it happened on campus.

“I’d get out of there,” Altura said. “Then I’d go get help for everyone else.”

The college does have a plan for an active shooter scenario.

“We have our own procedures and we actively practice them,” said the college’s chancellor, Helen Cox. “The whole UH system has an ongoing plan.”

That plan revolves around leadership staff trained to manage emergencies.

“The entire leadership staff is trained in the incident management system required by the Federal Emergency Management Association, and we each have different positions that we’re assigned to,” said Gary Ellwood, marketing specialist for the college. “By having a number of people in leadership positions each working a job, we’re covering all aspects of a scenario and we’re able to get information to students and faculty.”

There are team members, for example, tasked with outreach to local authorities, those who handle communications and information, and an incident commander.

Annually, the college runs a safety simulation that involves local police and fire, and two years ago the theme of the simulation was an active shooter scenario.

“We involved some student workers in that simulation,” Ellwood said. “It was good practice for everyone and we made sure that all of our emergency systems are up to par.”

For those involved in an active shooter situation, Ellwood said, the best thing to do is escape, if you can. If there’s nowhere to run, the next option is to hide. When you’re out of options, however, fight.

“It’s not something that you can be ready for, but it’s something you can make a plan for,” Ellwood said. “So the main goal is to secure the safety of the students on campus while marshaling forces to take care of the problem.”

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Jessica Else, education reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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