UW-Madison campus shooter strategy gets national attention

Students confronting shooters is last resort, police chief says

MADISON, Wis. - As schools across the country are focused on security, University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Chief Susan Riseling is getting national recognition for her strategy for dealing with a shooter on campus.

Part of Riseling's plan is a five-step process for students and staff to handle an emergency if it were to arise. The final tactic in that list is for students to "take out" the shooter.

"And whatever has gone wrong in us eliminating the four steps ahead of time, we're at the end game," Riseling explained in a training video. "And when we're at the end game, get out. Don't do any stand-your-ground heroics. Get the heck out. Call us. Hide out. Jam in. Keep the shooter away from you as much as possible, and, if worst comes to worst, don't just stand there and fall -- fight."

Riseling produced the video in 2008 in response to the Virginia Tech shooting.

Riseling typically shows the six-minute clip at the end of an hour-long presentation to UW staff and students in which she outlines the ways to intervene as a potential shooter plans to attack his or her target. The chief focuses most of the presentation on how people can identify the warning signs before a shooter acts.

Riseling has identified four things a gunman does before a mass shooting, including fantasies of past killings, intricate plans, preparations and weapons acquisition, and analysis of the target.

Riseling pointed out that in most law enforcement situations, a criminal is after something material and replaceable. However, in these kinds of mass shootings, Riseling said the goal is death, and sometimes that end calls for a stronger response than what students have learned in the past.


"They need to be given permission now to go with your instinct, which is to run or to fight. That's the human instinct, fight or flight," Riseling said. "It's clear it's your life, and you've got to fight back when it's your life (at stake)."

Riseling said she is confident UW-Madison students have the smarts to act if an active shooter were to come on to campus.

"They've got a really good sense of common action. There's a sense of community here that they take care of each other, and very differently than I think in other institutions," Riseling said.

WISC-TV showed UW-Madison seniors Ryan Fieldbinder and Luke Dimos the video. They had never seen it before, but they said they weren't surprised that students were being told to confront a shooter in certain situations.

"Nobody's going to want to necessarily wake up and think, 'You know, I want to take out a gunman today,'" Dimos said. "But if you don't talk about it here, nobody's ever going to think that's a good idea."

"I think something like that is definitely a coordinated effort and not somebody taking the first step and other people stepping in," Fieldbinder added.

Senior Erin McGlynn and junior Kireeti Reddy said they have had these conversations around campus. They weren't sure that coordinated effort and rehearsed teamwork shown in the video would actually play out in an emergency.

"People are portrayed as heroes when that happens, but it also can sometimes make the situation more dangerous, I think," McGynn said.

"The doors are always open. Nothing is stopping people from doing terrible things like that," Reedy said.

Riseling said this generation of college students has grown up with this issue on the forefront, making them more aware and more open to the topic.

"What is relative history to them are these active shooters, and they've seen it in every venue," Riseling said.

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