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Preparedness is key to safety

TWO VIEWS • Should OHSU security officers carry guns?

Recently, Oregon Health and Science University President Joe Robertson asked me to take part in a task force charged with reviewing the university's ability to respond to an 'active shooter' incident similar to what occurred at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University.

Specifically, we were asked to make recommendations on whether OHSU should have armed public safety officers on campus.

Representation on the task force included faculty, staff, students, community advocates, law enforcement, the Veterans Administration Medical Center, the OHSU board of directors, the city of Portland, Multnomah County, the Legislature and the governor's office.

Most of the task force members (including myself) brought to the process a healthy concern about an armed presence on Marquam Hill south of downtown, where the OHSU campus is located.

As a health sciences campus, we are acutely aware of the inherent danger of firearms. We heard expert testimony from other health sciences campuses, our local law enforcement departments, and from the public.

OHSU public safety officers, by law, are not armed. In fact, they are prohibited by statute from receiving even basic police training.

Thus, they are dependent upon response from the Portland Police Bureau, which requires the presence of five officers to respond to an active shooting incident.

This means the response time for OHSU, because of its unique geographical challenges and complex campus, can approach 15 minutes.

We also learned that when an active shooter incident occurs, the perpetrator kills approximately one victim every 15 seconds until they either run out of victims or are forcibly stopped by an armed officer.

We learned that 86 percent of all public universities and colleges employ armed police officers.

Further, every university that has undergone a similar debate since the April 2007 Virginia Tech incident has decided to arm their officers.

One concern shared by the task force and community members was the safety of those with mental health issues. Clearly, training in this area is vital.

It was reassuring for us to note that our current (unarmed) public safety officers are called daily to assist with these issues and are skilled in responding without firearms.

Ultimately, the task force recommended that OHSU take steps to increase its critical incident readiness.

We proposed that OHSU seek legal clarification of the roles and responsibilities of OHSU public safety officers under Oregon state law.

We also urged OHSU to consider the addition of fully trained, certified and armed police officers on campus, either in the form of a contract with local police or by establishing a campus police force that would have to meet the same training requirements as any certified police organization.

Officers would have to undergo specialized training to deal with vulnerable populations, including the mentally ill.

Reaching these conclusions was no simple task. The notion of an armed presence on our campus was not an idea I initially felt comfortable with.

However, we too often are reminded that the unthinkable can occur, and we have a responsibility to protect our 12,000 staff and students as well as an estimated 10,000 daily patients and visitors.

The task force hopes that we are planning for an event that never occurs, but believes that this recommendation serves our campus and community best.

Carol Howe is president of the OHSU faculty Senate and is an OHSU-certified nurse midwife. She lives in Tigard.