Officials say school is ‘prepared as it can be’
BY DEREK ALLEN
The recent resurgence of school related shootings have sent shockwaves through campus communities around the world.
On Oct 1, 2015, Christopher Harper-Mercer walked into a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Oregon and killed nine people. Eight victims were students, one was an assistant professor. Mercer committed suicide after being wounded by police. The 26-year-old was enrolled at the college.
Here at the County College of Morris, the “active shooter” scenario has faculty, staff and students concerned.
“We have a very small idea of what to do if a shooter happens to come on campus,” said Kristen Wright, a respiratory therapy major at CCM. “Shootings are becoming extremely common, and we are at a huge loss because as a college we are not informed for our security. What does that say about the college’s concern for its students?”
Lindsay Slaff, a communication major, said she’s never truly felt safe on a college campus, especially after a mass shooting.
“In 2014 when I first came to CCM, I took an active shooter pocket guide from the Public Safety Office,” Slaff said. “The first piece of advice: Have an escape route and plan in mind. As an incoming freshman, essentially I’m being told to fend for myself. I’m almost a junior now, and only recently did I find out that students and faculty don’t have mandatory drills regarding these situations. Are we going to have to wait until it happens before we see change?”
CCM students are not the only ones worried about their safety on campus, in fact some faculty members have been vocal on the topic.
“I think my biggest concern is I don’t feel like I know what preparations the college has made to keep us safe,” said Michelle Altieri, assistant professor of communication. “I have a lot of unanswered questions on what to do in the event of a shooting, how best to keep myself, students and my coworkers safe. Since I don’t have that information, I feel myself and many other people here on campus are in a bit of a panic and feeling like there are no preparations made, when I would like to hope that that’s not true.”
According to Director of Public Safety Harvey Jackson, procedures are in place to evacuate each building in the event of an active shooter. Each building has three to four faculty members trained to assist public safety in an evacuation, called fire marshals. When a building is evacuated, fire marshals check each room to make sure no one is left behind. Students and faculty are ushered to staging areas, usually in front of the library or to lot eight.
Depending on the situation, the staging area may change. Students and staff would be notified by maintenance staff, who carry radios on them at all times and would be in contact with public safety.
Titan Alert would also be used in the event of an evacuation to communicate quickly with students and faculty.
“Titan Alert is the method for which a student will be notified about school closures and other campus related emergencies,” said John R. Hurd, assistant professor of criminal justice. “Presently, just under 75 percent of all students on campus are signed up to the Titan Alert system. Since it seems most students have cell phones, even when on campus, that may be a preferred method to receive emergency messages.”
For an evacuation, the paging system would also be in use. In the event of an active shooter, depending on where the individual is, the paging system would not be activated in the area the shooter would be in. Maintenance is also on call in that situation if power needs to be cut to a building occupied by an active shooter.
“Personally, I feel no one can be prepared for this,” Jackson said. “We’re prepared as well as we can be, but we can do better. A community college is one of the hardest places to defend. Everything is public.”
Since CCM is a county college, most of the campus is legally public space. Anyone can walk onto campus, which makes it difficult to keep the campus secure.
“We have undertaken a number of initiatives to improve and secure the campus, and we continue to look for ways to improve the campus’ security,” said Edward J. Yaw, President of CCM.
Two safety surveys have been made of CCM’s campus, one by a private organization and one by the Morris County Office of Emergency Management.
“They came through the campus and looked through everything,” Yaw said. “They made a number of recommendations, most of which we have already implemented and we will continue to implement.”
One of the recommendations implemented was an upgraded camera system, able to follow anyone on campus in real time. Another upgrade coming soon is an electronic panic button.
Computers in classrooms will be equipped with a clickable button that, when activated, displays a graphic of a red button with a ten second countdown and an option to cancel the call or continue.
Jackson had a working version of the electronic panic button in his office, and demonstrated what would happen if it was activated. Once pressed, the button disappeared from his computer and an alarm sounded in the public safety main office.
The panic button can also be programmed to alert other staff in the area once it has been activated, letting others know an incident may be in progress.
The phones in every classroom can function as a panic button as well. Any phone picked up automatically dials public safety, so if a phone is picked up and left dangling that immediately raises a red flag and elicits a response from public safety.
Another change being made is the location of public safety’s main office, which will be put next to a new exit being built on campus.
“Public Safety will be moved to a new building at 675 route 10,” said Yaw. “It’s being renovated right now. That new facility will house a command center which will have multiple TV monitors and enough room to allow any outside help, like Randolph Police, to all be in one room.”
Besides asking for a change in procedure, some faculty want to go a step further.
“I’ve been told for several years that training is coming,” Altieri said. “I’ve been told for several years that things are being planned. We’re ready for actual dates, we’re ready for things to happen. We’re past the point of just being told things are being planned, it needs to be planned now.”
According to Vice President of Business and Finance at CCM Karen VanDerhoof, training for the possibility of an active shooter will begin in March of 2016. FEMA will do a two day training session with staff on campus.
“It will basically run us through how to assess our emergency operations plan, communication strategies and how to identify and deal with situations,” VanDerhoof said. “How to deal with the aftermath of a situation, grief counseling, all of those types of things.”
VanDerhoof said a camera drill is being planned involving Public Safety, the Randolph Township Police Department and the Office of Emergency Management.
“They’ll bring their command bus here and they’ll have connectivity to our cameras on campus,” VanDerhoof said. “It will be like a pursuit drill, where we might have an individual on campus who might not belong here and we’ll be able to track, pursue and hopefully apprehend that person. That’s the first drill that will be happening later this fall.”
The next drill, planned for the fall of 2016, will be a full on active shooter drill. The drill will involve students, faculty and emergency responders, testing the college’s response to the possibility of a mass shooting.
Yaw said there is no universal response to an incident, and that procedures change depending on the situation. The main focus of these preparations is communication and rapid response.
“God forbid it ever happens,” VanDerhoof said. “The odds are not great, but you never know. Very fortunately, we have very little issues on this campus, with any type of crime. But you can’t assume that it would never happen here, because nobody thought that it would happen in Oregon. Unfortunately, it happens everywhere. You can’t have the mindset that it can never happen here, you have to assume it could and just be as prepared as possible for it. And that’s what we’re moving towards.”