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Responding to Campus Attacks: We’ve Come a Long Way

Recent shootings demonstrate that training, all-hazards emergency preparedness plans, student awareness and mass notification are helping campuses better handle security incidents.

As I review the circumstances surrounding last week’s shooting at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh as well as the shooting at Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio, in late February, I can’t help but be impressed with the campuses’ and law enforcement’s responses to both of these tragedies.

With last week’s incident, six University of Pittsburgh campus police officers responded within two minutes of the first 9-1-1 call. The officers, who had split into two groups of three, outflanked the gunman and diverted his attention from possibly killing or injuring other victims. After being shot at by the suspect, one of the groups of officers returned fire and killed him. Officials at the university attribute the officers’ effective response to the Virginia Tech-style training they received.

With the Ohio shooting, a brave teacher chased the shooter out of the school. Additionally, responding law enforcement officers promptly entered the school, located the victims and created a security perimeter so the suspect couldn’t re-enter the campus.

School officials also deserve quite a bit of credit in their handling of the Ohio incident. They quickly issued an emergency notification to parents, providing them with status of the situation. The campus’ parent-student reunification plans and evacuation plans also proved to be very effective. Additionally, counselors were quickly mobilized to help students deal with the tragedy.

Of course, none of these successes can possibly compensate for the lives that were lost: three at Chardon High School and one at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. That being said, these incidents could have and would have been much worse  but for the quick thinking of the law enforcement officers and campus staff who responded.

And let’s not forget the incidents that have been prevented as a result of improved information sharing, student awareness and tip lines. In January, authorities were alerted by classmates of two Roy (Utah) High School students who were allegedly planning to bomb the campus. In December in Aurora, Ill., a Metea Valley High School junior was ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation after making threats he would commit a “Columbine-style” attack of the campus.

On the higher ed side of things, just this week, a University of Maryland student was arrested for allegedly posting a threat on the Internet. Authorities say he claimed he was planning a shooting rampage that would “kill enough people to make it to national news.” A former student alerted the authorities about the threats, as did two other individuals who were in contact with the individual on a different Web site.

Unfortunately, not all attacks can be prevented. As I write this article, authorities are still trying to determine the motive for the Pittsburgh shooting, and the gunman appears to not have provided any indication that he was going to commit such an atrocious act.

With the Ohio tragedy, the shooter also didn’t appear to provide any clues about his alleged plans.

Despite these tragedies, I think it is important that we highlight the progress campuses and police have made in responding and preventing these incidents. The bottom line is active shooter response training, evacuation drills, lockdown drills, mass notification, emergency preparedness plans and information sharing among staff and students all are effective at preventing and mitigating tragedies. Keep up the good work.

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About the Author


Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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