Violent person on campus: know you can survive

Further Information: Violent Person on Campus

Violent Person GraphicYou can download your poster or email Safety Office with your request.

You Can Prepare Yourself

You can make a difference simply by imagining various scenarios playing out in the places you take classes, study or work. Where are the exits? Do the doors lock? What would make a good barricade? What would make a good weapon? Ask yourself “What if…?” This kind of thinking is helpful in preparing for all kinds of emergency, wherever you may go.

The above video details what to do in a situation involving an active shooter.  The steps described in this video can also be applied to situations involving violent or armed intruders in addition to active shooters.

Active Shooter Defined  - An Active Shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearm(s) and there is no apparent pattern or method to how they choose their victims.

Situations involving violent or armed intruders evolve quickly and there is no way to anticipate their course. Typically, the immediate deployment of police is needed to stop the shooting and mitigate harm. Active shooter or situations involving violence can be over within 10 to 15 minutes. For this reason it is important that you are prepared to act quickly to protect yourself.

Get Out – Hide – Fight

If a violent situation is occurring near you, experts recommend three essential courses of action to help you avoid harm. These methods are demonstrated in the video Violent Person on Campus: Know You Can Survive.

  • Get out: Getting out is by far the best option if you believe you can escape safely. This is why it is a good idea to make mental notes of means of escape wherever you may be on campus. If you hear something that could be gunshots, don’t wait: get out.
  • Hide: Hide if you don’t know exactly where the shooting is happening or it’s too late to escape safely. Get behind a lockable door if you can. Barricade the door. Improvise with any object you can to prevent someone from entering.

    Once you are hidden, silence your phone, turn off the lights and stay quiet. If your spot is secure, be prepared to remain there until the police come to you with the all clear.
  • Fight: Fighting is your absolute last resort. You would only confront a violent or armed intruder if you somehow became trapped in a space with no escape. A violent or armed intruder typically doesn’t respond to reason so you must assume they intend to harm you. Find an object you can use to strike the shooter with; trip them with a chair; be as aggressive as you can; do anything you can to stop them.

You will need to decide if you can do this. Remember, it is your decision.

About the Police

You might be surprised by the actions of the police a situation involving a violent or armed intruder. First, they may not have time to help you when they first arrive as their top priority will be to find and stop the shooter. Second, the police might not know exactly what the shooter looks like so they have to consider you a possible threat. For that reason, if you encounter police, don’t run toward them. Remain calm. Keep your hands visible. Follow instructions.

Identifying a Person at Risk

There is no way to accurately predict who may become violent in this manner, but there are warning signs that can signal escalating risk in individuals, when seen in combination or increasing in severity or frequency.

  • Fixation on a perceived or actual loss, preoccupation with a person or cause, rigid beliefs or opinions that support violence, feelings of persecution
  • Obsession with weapons, violence or inappropriately identifying with previous violent actors, law enforcement or the military. 
  • Planning or preparation to carry out a specific violent act, for example obtaining weapons.
  • Communication, usually to a third party of an intent to commit violence.
  • Substance abuse (drugs or alcohol) accompanied by disturbing behaviour (e.g. erratic mood swings, angry outbursts)

Reporting a Concern

If you believe that someone may be on a path to violence, contact one of the campus resources that can help:

  • UW Police
  • Counseling Services
  • Associate Deans (Students)
  • Human Resources (Employees)
  • Safety Office

If someone is committing violence, or about to commit violence at the university, call 911 or contact UW Police at 519-888-4911 or ext. 22222.

If you are concerned about something you observe, contact UW Police at 519-888-4911 or ext. 22222.

Questions and Answers

  1. Why are you promoting this kind of education when the scenario is so unlikely?

    There are three reasons for bringing this information to you:

    College and university emergency planners believe this material could save a life, whether on a campus or anywhere else people may travel.

    Emergency planners are frequently asked for this information and we are responding to that request. People with this information often report that it brings a sense of empowerment and peace of mind.

    Finally, the information can be generalized. You can employ the thought process to prepare for any kind of emergency. This information encourages you to ask that powerful “What if” question.

  2.  Usually we’re taught to just phone the police and wait when there’s a crime. You’re telling me to actually take actions. This is very different.

    Incidents involving violence or armed intruders tend to happen very fast. They evolve quickly and are typically over in a matter of minutes. The police will come, but you need to think about those few minutes before they arrive, and you should have an idea of what to do when they do arrive.

  3. What should I do if I receive an alert on the WatSAFE app about a violent attack on campus but I do not know the details of where this is occurring?

    The initial notifications from WatSAFE will only contain a basic alert message to let you know that this type of situation is occurring somewhere on campus.  If you do not know where the situation is occurring and you are not in imminent danger, securing yourself in a locked room is the best course of action.  Once you are in this secure location, turn off the lights and silence your phone.  Additional information will be provided through WatSAFE as it becomes available.

  4. Are you really suggesting attacking a person who has a gun?

    Keep in mind this is the last resort. Violent or armed intruders almost always continue until something happens to stop them. If you are trapped with nowhere to go, it might be your only choice. Nobody can force you to take this step, but you should at least be aware it is an option. What you do in such a situation is your own decision.

  5. As a student, I move around all day. I’m in several different rooms and spaces. Am I supposed to have a detailed plan for everywhere I go?

    No, it’s not practical to have a detailed plan for every situation. But you can take a moment in various locations to ask, “What if?” It will prompt you to make a mental note of exits and possible hiding places. That small amount of forethought could make the critical difference in how you react in a real emergency.

  6. Are instructors expected to take the lead in an actual emergency such as this?

    It is impossible to predict how anyone will react in such an extreme event. Any one of us is capable of becoming a leader with the presence of mind to remember what to do and to take action. It might be an instructor, a member of administration, a member of support staff or a student.  With this education, we are all equally prepared to make informed decisions for ourselves.

  7. I’ve never heard a gunshot in real life. How will I know one if I hear one?

    The sound of gunfire can vary a lot. Sometimes it can sound like a firecracker. Sometimes it’s more like a pop or a loud bang. Gunshots sound different inside and outside. It probably won’t sound like you expect it to sound. The sound of gunfire on your campus, however, will be out of the ordinary. Listen and look for other clues and if there’s any doubt in your mind, treat the situation as though it is gunfire.

  8. Am I expected to save others from a shooter, such as people that might have mobility issues or freeze up, for example?

    You are not expected to be a hero. You must do what is right for you. If you are confident you can help others without putting yourself in unnecessary danger, you may choose to do so.

  9. Does this education only apply when I’m on campus?

    No, the principles are the same wherever you are.

  10. I’ve just watched the video and now feel anxious and upset. What do I do?

    It is okay to be upset. It can be helpful to talk to someone about your response. Most people find it helpful to talk with friends or colleagues. If the subject matter is especially distressing to you, however, there are resources available:

    If you are a UW student, you can contact the Counselling Services, located in the new Needles Hall Expansion, 2nd floor next to the main building or in the Health Services building, 2nd floor. Emergency Contacts:

  • Between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. contacts are as follows: 
    • Needles Hall call 519-888-4567, ext 32655
    • Health Services call 519-888-4567, ext 31976
  • 24/7 Contacts can be found on Conselling Services website  
  • Learn more here

University of Waterloo employees may access EAP directly through off-campus services. Please contact Occupational Health at Ext.36264. 

You also have the option of the anonymous, 24 hour support available through Ontario Mental Health Helpline. Find information here about the Mental Health Help Line or call directly: 1-866-531-2600.