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January 22, 2014

Vigo County colleges say they plan, prepare to handle situations like Purdue shooting

TERRE HAUTE — Tuesday’s fatal shooting of a student at Purdue University has brought home the reality that, yes, a similar incident could happen in Terre Haute, which has five colleges and universities.

Colleges say they prepare through drills and other training; have emergency response plans; learn from the response of campuses that have experienced such tragedies; and have emergency notification systems.

Indiana State University police conduct at least two emergency response exercises each year, said Joe Newport, interim director of ISU Public Safety. “We have concentrated on active shooter scenarios in three of our last five drills.”

ISU police are closely monitoring Purdue’s response to the shooting and how it handled campus notification, he said. “We keep in touch with other campus police agencies for best practices,” Newport said.

In Purdue’s fatal shooting, the gunman targeted one individual, another student, according to reports. “It was tragic, yet not as complicated as a lot of other shootings we’ve read about,” Newport said.

If a similar situation happened at ISU, university police “have been trained and will go to where the shots are fired in an attempt to stop any continued efforts by the gunman to hurt people,” Newport said. “They would try to stop the threat … whatever that takes.”

ISU police are trained in building entry and would go in small groups to enter and clear buildings and make sure the threat is over.

In a serious event, other police agencies  would be called for assistance.

Also important is the notification of the campus community “as quickly as possible,” Newport said.

ISU uses several tools, including RAVE text/email messaging alerts to those who sign up and a campus siren. ISU has between 15,000 and 20,000 subscribers to the RAVE alerts, Newport said.

The alert informs people where the incident has occurred, to stay away and to shelter in place. If they are in a classroom, they should turn out lights, lock doors, stay where they can’t be seen and make it appear the room is empty.

An “all clear” text messages is sent when the situation has been resolved.

The Purdue shooting serves as a reminder that a similar situation could happen at any college setting, including a public university such as ISU, where people come and go in a way that can’t be controlled, Newport said.

The campus community needs to be prepared for and aware of that possibility and take emergency notifications seriously, he said.

In an electronic “campus update”  Wednesday, ISU President Dan Bradley stated, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the student killed at Purdue University on Tuesday as well as to our colleagues and friends in West Lafayette. Unfortunately, this type of event can happen anywhere.”

He encouraged students, faculty and staff to sign up for the emergency notification system (RAVE) if they have not already. They can add additional numbers if parents, spouses or others want to receive the alerts.

The university “has made a concerted effort to limit the use of this system to emergency situations, and I would encourage you to take any RAVE alerts you receive very seriously,” Bradley said.

He also encouraged faculty and staff to review guidelines for situations in which there is an armed subject or active shooter. “These guidelines need to be followed,” the president said.

The community’s other colleges also prepare for such emergencies, while hoping those response plans never have to be used.

“It’s something we talk about constantly and we want to make sure everyone is alert and prepared,” said Chris Williams, director of human resources at Ivy Tech-Wabash Valley.

The college does training on campus for emergency situations, involving staff, faculty, students and law enforcement. “We have done quite a bit of training in the last few years for emergency preparedness,” Williams said. “We have a good relationship with law enforcement” and work closely with the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department, he said.

The college uses an IVY alert system to text message or email students in the event of an emergency.

Small, private colleges know they are not immune to the possibility that something could happen.

In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, in which 32 people were killed and many others wounded, colleges such as Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology have closely re-examined their emergency response plans, said Mary Barr, vice president for communication and marketing.

The college’s public safety staff works closely with and participate in drills with law enforcement and emergency response agencies, and in particular the Terre Haute Police Department.

Another consideration is how fast information spreads through Twitter and other social media, she said. “You have to move extremely quickly to keep people informed and quiet down false information that naturally happens in such a crisis,” Barr said.

As Rose-Hulman’s chief communication officer, “One of my biggest worries is the misinformation that can be out there,” Barr said. That misinformation can be confusing and sometimes even dangerous.

The college uses a RAVE text/email notification system and emergency sirens.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College has 24-hour security but not its own police department like ISU, said Vicki Kosowsky, the Woods vice president for student affairs. If an incident occurred, “We would rely on local police to come in and help us,” she said

In an emergency situation, the college has a text alert system, a lockdown procedure and it would use a “live” website. It also has a siren system. The campus community would be alerted to shelter in place until an “all clear” was issued.

The college has conducted exercises with students to help prepare them, should an emergency situation occur.

With the frequency of school shootings anymore, whether at K-12 or college settings,  “I don’t think we’re isolated from that kind of event anymore,” Kosowsky said. “I think everyone has to be prepared.”

One advantage of a small campus such as the Woods is that people tend to know each other, and they also tend to notice an unfamiliar face — which, in some cases, can prompt a call to security, Kosowsky said.

Harrison College in Terre Haute works closely with the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department and has off-duty officers on staff, said Brennan Randolph, campus president.

The college’s dean for the School of Criminal Justice and Social Services has created plans that would be followed in the event of a campus emergency, such as the one experienced at Purdue University, Randolph said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

 

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