Oakland University to fight shooters with hockey pucks
It's a potential faceoff between bullets and thousands of hockey pucks at Oakland University.
The Rochester Hills and Auburn Hills university began equipping its faculty and some students with hockey pucks this month as a "last resort" precaution to throw at any active shooters on campus, officials say.
Oakland University Police Chief Mark Gordon said the idea emerged during a training session he was giving earlier this year on surviving an active shooter situation.
Gordon, a former youth hockey coach, said since the university has an ordinance against weapons, one attendee asked what staff and students could bring to prepare themselves for a fight. He recalled once being struck in the head with a puck and said it "caused a fair amount of damage to me."
"It was not a well-thought-out strategy," Gordon told reporters during a telephone interview Tuesday evening. "It was a spur-of-the-moment-thing that had merit to it and kind of caught on."
The university faculty union's executive committee took part in one of the training sessions that included the concept in June and soon after, decided to begin purchasing and supplying the pucks, said Tom Discenna, president of the American Association of University Professors.
Discenna said he'd heard that tossing items — like billiard balls — at a possible assailant is well received in the law enforcement community, and when the chief suggested hockey pucks, the union decided to get on board.
"We thought 'yeah, that is something that we can do,'" he said. "We can make these available at least to our members and a fair number of students as well."
So far, the union has spent $2,500 on an initial batch of pucks. Each costs 94 cents to make and they are printed with the union's logo, Discenna said. They are being distributed for free.
The union began passing out the pucks on Nov. 9. So far, 800 faculty members have them, and another 1,700 are expected to go to students. The university's student congress has ordered an additional 1,000, he said.
Gordon said there's been no studies or research on it, but a puck is an adequate defense posture along with the use of chairs, staplers or anything else that has weight and can do damage.
Gordon said that the heightened need to educate staff and students stems from the Virginia Tech rampage of 2007. The shooter, in that incident, killed 32 people before taking his own life in what was one of the deadliest in U.S. history.
This effort, he said, will "empower faculty and students to have a plan to have something to defend themselves rather than just freezing in place."
Ideally, Gordon said, dozens in a single classroom could be armed with pucks — or other objects — and could all throw them at the same time, if necessary.
Discenna said only a few students have the pucks right now. The communications professor said he's passed them out to his classes and will be working with the university's student congress to figure out the best way to get them to other students.
Discenna said the hope is that once faculty members are trained, they can share the information with students.
The university's police chief conducts several training sessions on active shooters throughout the year for faculty, staff and students.The union said it is doing two sessions each month for faculty that's organized by department.
Garry J. Gilbert, director of the journalism program at Oakland University, said when he first heard the idea, he was skeptical. But he signed up two weeks ago for the training held in a classroom on the university's campus.
"My first reaction was: You are talking about facing an assault weapon and asking us to fight back with hockey pucks? It sounded silly," Gilbert said. “Then I went through the training session, and it all made sense. None of us want to face an armed assailant. Students will look to us for leadership in a situation like that.”
In the training, Gilbert noted that the faculty was told to run first. If they can’t run then hide. And “then realize it’s in your classroom, you need to be prepared for a fight," he said.
“If we have to do that (fight), Chief Gordon has shown us you can surprise or disarm an assailant with an object. Grab anything you’ve got ... a stapler or book ... anything you’ve got and be prepared and charge him," he said. "Maybe he can be distracted by having things thrown at him, and you can limit injuries and loss of life. It won me over. “
During the program, staff was given Nerf balls to toss at a fake assailant during a drill.
“Before the training, it was something I had not given much thought to,” Gilbert said of charging at an armed assailant. “Now I have given it some thought, and now I would be far more likely to do something like that if you hear gunshots.”
He hasn't thrown the puck yet to practice, he added.
"I have been carrying it (puck) around since I got it. It's on my desk right now," he said. "We got it the same week as the training."
Gilbert said his wife, Holly Shreve Gilbert, who is also on the OU faculty as an adjunct journalism instructor, has a puck with her.
“We both said, 'Let’s hope we never have to do this. If we fight back, this idea makes as much sense as anything else,'" he said.
Separately, the union is hoping the pucks can help bolster a fundraising campaign for interior door locks for university classrooms. Each one has an identification number for voluntary donations to the campaign. The union and student congress each have contributed $5,000 toward that initiative.
The union said that the campus safety training is ongoing, and it intends to conduct two sessions each month for faculty.
"As far as the hockey pucks are concerned, I expect eventually we'll run out of money to give them to people," Discenna said. "Maybe students will buy their own. It's just the idea of having something, a reminder that you are not powerless and you are not helpless in the classroom."