With a few days chance to reflect, a couple things stand out about what turned out to be an unsubstantiated active shooter alert on the Central Washington University campus this past Wednesday.

The first impression is it was an amazingly rapid and wide response by law enforcement. Obviously, these are professionals and they train for these situations but that response was top notch.

The second impression is something like an active shooter alert in the era of social media and instantaneous communication is exponentially more complex to manage.

In regard to the law enforcement response, it is understandable that people might question how this scenario would play out in a small town, one that lacks the large police force. It turns out that it works out pretty well because all the various law enforcement entities are adept at coming together and working as a team in response to a crisis.

So, there is not one large agency at the ready but in practice every law enforcement resource available can be brought to bear on a specific incident. That is an efficient system the serves a rural community well.

The law enforcement response is pretty straight forward and likely will be analyzed to determine if everything went as planned. On a related note, Central held an active shooter training session earlier this school year that was pretty close to what actually occurred — that’s a point in favor of training and, if anything, is an argument for making it more extensive.

What was far more complex, but also worthy of analysis and study was the public reaction to this incident as it unfolded in real time.

Part of what’s fascinating about this is there is a record of how this played out on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. Tracking it as it happened you could get a tangible sense for rumors and fear as it spread.

After the fact, since the call was unfounded, it is easy to criticize people for “overreacting,” but what qualifies as “overreacting” if there had been a shooter on campus?

Another factor was the timing. The call came in after 5 p.m. when the campus was far less crowded but there were still some people in buildings. During the day there would have been large groups of people to talk to, but the timing means there were people alone in large buildings. We are all human beings — the fear level is going to be high in that situation.

Then there is the phenomenon of hearing “shots fired.” Gunfire was reported in the Student Union and Recreation Center, the Language and Literature Arts Building and Nicholson Pavilion. This alone is an interesting case study, but it may just be people in the situation of fearing a gunman on campus fitting noises that might otherwise disregard within the context of someone firing a weapon. But social media, and the sharing of similar rumors, likely played a role.

The nice part is there was no shooter leaving us with the luxury of debating, discussing and perhaps even nit-picking what occurred. At the end of the day, that’s a good outcome.


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