Colleges in Texas, Pennsylvaniaand elsewhere Last week was marked by a series of “beat-ups” in which callers falsely reported active shooters to police. The calls, which resembled fake bomb threats, were designed to provoke a strong response from law enforcement and spark panic on college campuses.
Callers seize on the real threat of school gun violence and send community members into a panic. The recent mass shootings at Michigan State University and Covenant School in Nashville have many colleges and K-12 schools on edge.
Last week’s fake call prompted some students to speak out about what they believed to be flaws in campus emergency response protocols.University of Pittsburgh student protests were held last week Criticize the agency for delaying a campus-wide alert about active shooter calls, even though it was a hoax.
In addition to the psychological trauma these attacks can cause, there can also be physical harm.exist Harvard University This month, campus police held four black students at gunpoint in a dorm room after receiving false reports that an armed individual entered their suite.
chronicle Chat with Robert Evans of Margolis Healy, a campus safety consultancy, about how colleges should respond to assault incidents. Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Even if an active shooter call is a hoax, the academy must respond like a real threat. What is the correct response?
From the moment a call is received, whether in dispatch or through administrative channels, there must be a quick assessment of its credibility. The structure of the response MUST assume this is happening until the response can be sure it is not happening. This in itself presents a variety of different challenges for faculty, staff and students, as well as first responder organizations responding to these service needs.
How can colleges improve their responses to potential active shooter situations, while keeping in mind that they may be real?
Some calls share a common pattern — it involves something happening in the building, or people hear background noise when the call comes in, or the call is computer-generated. Universities need to ensure they stay in touch with evolving trends. They need to ensure that alert notifications occur. But soon, if they determine that the call is not authentic, then the campus also needs to be notified quickly. The risk associated with this is that law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services personnel will sometimes respond to these calls with lights and sirens. And there may be unintended consequences.
Speaking of unintended consequences, how have these snap calls affected students, faculty and staff?
Just this past weekend, we saw four mass shootings across the country. Everyone is on pins and needles about when it will happen next. Any time you have law enforcement responding to an active shooter threat, they move quickly to that location. Guns are being taken out of the trunks of their cars, they may be entering buildings, and that reaction could result in injuries.
There may be faculty, staff and students experiencing medical-related issues who enter these environments with stress and trauma from their backgrounds and life experiences. This can also have long-term effects on mental health. So it’s important that universities across the country not only respond appropriately, but that after an event, officials ensure that appropriate mental health resources are available to faculty, staff and students — so they can mitigate some of these risks. Long-term mental health problems.
Part of what makes these strike calls so dire is the widespread fear of gun violence on campus. What changes has the university made to its security equipment in recent years in response to the threat of mass shootings?
Law enforcement and our entire first responder community have done a very, very good job of preparing for these events. Collaboration between agencies followed by planning, training and exercises. As we’ve seen in some of the recent incidents, law enforcement has been deployed very quickly, which in my opinion has greatly reduced the number of casualties associated with these incidents.
Any time our institution can sit down with faculty, staff and students and inform them of what the law enforcement response will look like and what they should do if an incident occurs — it really is a community care approach. We all have a role to play. Unfortunately, from an early age, our children in the K-12 environment have years of this preparation before they enter college. So we just have to make sure we continue to emphasize collaboration.
Another challenge is the way these people create these tragic events. They get better at doing what they do. The threat paradigm changed, and they changed the way they did things based on law enforcement response. Therefore, we will always have to continually improve the way we prepare for, respond to and recover from these tragedies.
When a call comes in, it usually triggers a response from law enforcement, or someone is shot, or someone is injured and runs out of the building. Is there any way for the university to reduce the risk of consequences through the response unit while taking threatening calls very seriously?
The more people familiar with how to respond, the faster campus security and law enforcement agencies can assess the risks associated with threats. Here’s the key: A well-informed faculty, staff, student body, and community is a group of people who feel like they can manage and do what they need to do to get through this safely. Stress and anxiety only escalate when people don’t know and have to wait for information.