By Tara Gibson - November 4, 2019
Earlier this month, one university police department was informed of a credible school safety threat. An email threatening that somebody was going to “shoot up” the university was received, and they in turn sent out a campus-wide emergency alert telling everybody in the area to take shelter, as the school was going into lockdown. There were two large issues that came out of this university lockdown. The first was the many classrooms which were unable to be locked from the inside, and the second was the vagueness of the alert that was sent out.
The alert that was sent out to students, faculty, and staff read that there was a “credible threat” and told everybody on campus to get inside, but it did not reveal much else according to Long Beach Post. Quickly professors and students realized that some classrooms did not have locks on the doors, so they began grabbing anything and everything they could to block the doors to prevent an active assailant from entering. Images from within classrooms began to spread across social media like wildfire, showing the hastily piled chairs, desks, projectors, and other items blocking the doors. Long Beach Post explains, “If they happened to be in older buildings or classrooms that didn’t lock from the inside, students and professors used belts, shoelaces and whatever else they could find to secure the doors.”
One professor was teaching in one of these older buildings when the mass notification went out. He tweeted that his classroom in particular had four doors and none of them could be locked from the inside. All of the desks in the classroom were bolted to the floor, so in a panicked frenzy he and his students had to find whatever they could to put in front of the door.
The scare lasted just an hour and turned out to be a false alarm, but with the widespread panic of throwing supplies against doors many students and professors were asking, "what if this had been an active shooter incident"?
After the alert was sent out to the university students and staff, many were confused as to what was going on. The alert stated that there was a “credible threat”, but what did that mean? Long Beach Post says many faculty members are concerned with how the information is disseminated in these emergency situations. With students relying heavily on social media networks, many were complaining they had no idea what the threat was, and in turn they were unable to prepare themselves.
“Oftentimes what happens is students are picking up from tweets and texts and Facebook,” Gary Hytrek said. “That’s a problem if the information isn’t credible. If you don’t know the threat, you don’t know what to protect against.”
According to University spokesman, Jeff Cook, it is typical for organizations to only say whether a threat is credible or not, and issue instructions to shelter in place. “These events are fluid, and we’re trying to give the best guidance as we can,” Cook said. “I understand the desire for more specificity, but again these situations tend to evolve.”
The university has definitely heard the concerns from students and faculty, and they explained that they have been working diligently to retrofit all the doors from the inside on campus since 2017, making sure the campus has good shelter-in-place locks that can be secured in case of a threat. Some of the buildings on campus date back to the 1950’s which makes it more difficult to speed up the process. Cook explains, “…it’s not always a matter of swapping out hardware. Sometimes the entire door and door jam need to be replaced, which would need to be permitted and inspected by a fire marshal. In some cases it can also involve asbestos and lead paint abatement.” He continues, ““At first blush it may sound like an easier job to retrofit the doors, but it’s not”.
So far, the university has spent around $550,000 on the project, and they plan to have the more lecture hall-type classrooms with a capacity of 60 or more on the first floors of buildings retrofitted by December. Cook goes on to say about 400 classrooms total need to be retrofitted, and more than 100 will be by the end of this year. There will be more funding allocated for retrofitting the classrooms beyond that, and in the meantime professors have been told to barricade classroom doors with tables and chairs, turn off the lights, hide, and stay quiet in the case of a lockdown.
Lockdowns can be a scary experience for students and faculty, even if there wasn’t a credible threat. Many universities and colleges across the country are aware of the growth of gun violence in the United States and are looking for school safety initiatives to implement on campus to help professors and students feel at ease.
One tool that has proven to help students feel at ease is a campus safety application. During a crisis students have the ability to reach out to campus safety officers via text message, confidential tips, and location sharing directly from their cell phone. To learn more watch this short video by clicking the link below.
Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12 education, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!
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