In December, Indiana University Southeast locked down its New Albany campus, sending out this Tweet: “IU Southeast Emergency! An armed person has been seen on campus. Go into nearest room and lock door. Follow instructions from authorities.”
In turns out, a student brought a prop BB gun onto campus for class, interim chancellor Barbara Bichelmeyer says.
“He called back to campus to let us know he thought that were trying to find him. We had calls coming in that made it difficult to get that call,” she recalls. “Because it was a real event with no severe consequences we were able to learn how people respond.”
Since then, IU Southeast has installed a voice-over system to alert all classrooms simultaneously of an immediate alert—but the school still needs to do more, says Bichelmeyer.
Most Louisville area universities have plans in place to respond to active shooter situations—like the one at Purdue University earlier this week—and other emergencies, like tornados. The plans vary widely, but most include initial training and awareness campaigns.
“One thing we don’t have on the wall of every classroom that we could potentially have on the wall is the reminder, your options are run, hide, fight,” Bichelmeyer says.
The IUS emergency plan has been in place since 2004 and follows this practice, she says. Bichelmeyer agrees with others who say when emergency situations happen it’s hard to know what to do. But more reminders means better prepared people, she says.
“You’re anxious, you’re scared and you’re thinking about other people. So how do we provide resources and availability and recurrent training so that it becomes something that you memorize, so that you know the first thing you think is do I run, do I hide, do I fight, ” Bichelmeyer says.
Many schools, such as the University of Louisville, revisited emergency plans follow the Virginia Tech school shootings in 2007 that left 33 dead. In Kentucky, then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher quickly formed a task force to review universities’ emergency plans and to make recommendations as needed.
For the past three years, U of L has given brief active shooter trainings to all new employees—including adjunct professors and graduate fellows—during their orientation, Aaron Graham, a University of Louisville police officers. Before this, training was offered at the request of U of L staff and teachers in various departments, he says.
Training is comprised of videos and a test and other university policies are also explained during this time, Graham says.
Also, U of L has volunteer emergency coordinators in each building who are responsible for receiving annual training and dispersing that information to their building’s staff at their discretion. These coordinators are also responsible for helping develop their building’s emergency plan, says Dennis Sullivan, who works in emergency management at U of L’s department of environmental health and safety.
Sullivan says U of L has determined its three greatest threats are severe weather, fire and active shooters.
In each building there is information for what to do in each of these emergencies, and coordinators are responsible for choosing an emergency for which to run a drill each year in their building, he says.
Also, about 80 percent of U of L’s buildings can be locked electronically from a central command center. But some buildings, such as certain medical clinics, don’t have locks because of patient access issues.
IU Southeast has no central locking system, but the school is working on getting internal locks installed in classrooms, says Bichelmeyer.
It may be a while, but in the meantime, door jams or door stops can be used, she says.
“That could potentially be safer than the lockdown that’s being automated from a central location because the people in the building, in the room have control over that,” she says.
Communication during an emergency can be a challenge.
Social media has also become a popular way for colleges and universities to get out information during an emergency, but clogged phone lines and slow websites were a lesson learned by IU Southeast during its false alarm on Dec. 5, Bichelmeyer says.
That’s why a fire system with voice-over capabilities was installed after the incident, so staff can communicate with all classrooms, she says.
While communication by IU Southeast was “great,” she says, it was a challenge for the school to get feedback from the outside.
IU Southeast is now considering how to streamline information on its website, possibly shutting down portions of it and focusing communication in one area. This would likely include Twitter too, she says.
At many universities, students with school e-mail addresses can get emergency alerts or phone calls, but students must be signed up to get them.
Back at U of L, Sullivan—who has worked on emergency management with several universities nationwide—says U of L’s plan is pretty strong.
“I say we’re B+, A- [grade]. I’ve seen a few schools that were better than us but they were much smaller. I’ve seen larger schools that don’t have nearly what we have in place,” he says.
Bellarmine University most recently revised its plan in 2013, officials say.
In an email, officials wrote that the plan “addresses a variety of potential scenarios. Emergency instructions are posted in every classroom, and the university can communicate directly with students, faculty and staff by text message during an emergency. Those messages can be supplemented with e-mail and social media communication, as appropriate, based on the circumstances. We don’t disclose the operational details of our emergency response plan.”
Spalding University also has classrooms that can be locked from the inside and has an emergency plan that has been developed since 2003 to include active shooter procedures, officials say.
In 2007, the school formed a Behavioral Intervention Team following the Virginia Tech shootings. The team received annual training and was renamed the Compassionate Action Team in 2012, with a focus on prevention and intervention rather than punishment that could escalate to an incident, officials say.
In an email, Spalding officials write:
In keeping with Spalding’s mission and focus on compassion we endeavor to create a campus culture that identifies students in distress and responds to them well before there is an escalation to violence. In nearly all cases of campus violence there are ‘leaks’ (social media posts, writing in class assignments or other notable, trackable behaviors) that indicate the student is in distress long before the situation escalates to violence. Spalding has established the Compassion Action Team that intervenes with students who are exhibiting behaviors of concern. The CAT endeavors to first and foremost provide counseling and support for the student. When necessary the CAT performs Threat Assessments using the NaBITA Threat Assessment Tool and may take other actions such as removing a student from the environment if their behavior is threatening the safety of other students.