Writer Grace Cunningham
On Oct. 1, 2015 another mass shooting startled the nation. A gunman targeted Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., taking nine lives and wounding seven others. This event shattered the small-campus sense of security, causing some students and campus security leaders to reexamine their schools and the potential risks of tragedy that could present themselves every time someone walks onto campus.
News reports of mass shootings in the United States are broadcasted daily, it seems. A common setting, unfortunately, is the classroom. These events appeared to be characterized by large institutions – the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, for example – but we know now that these horrific acts can happen anywhere. Students may choose a smaller community or state college over a populous university because they don’t want to be just another face in the crowd. Some students may choose a smaller school out of convenience. All students, however, have the unspoken desire to be safe – no matter what college they have chosen to attend. Before, smaller institutions seemed to offer a sense of increased security. Now, that assumption is being reexamined.
David Stout, director of campus security at St. Johns River State College, outlined the current emergency tactics in place. Across all three of St. Johns River State College campuses, there are certain safety strategies and emergency notification systems in place. Stout said that, at first knowledge of a threat, the main priority is notifying those who are already on campus. To do this, emergency notification speaker systems are installed in all classrooms, common rooms, and athletic facilities. From there, emergency emails, text messages, and phone calls may be sent out to keep those who may be soon coming onto campus safe. Additionally, three emergency protocols have been developed, and all faculty and staff have been trained to properly carry out each one. New students are taught these protocols during orientation. There are procedures to follow in the case of a lockdown or evacuation, and a shelter-in-place protocol. Usually weather driven, shelter-in-place protocol helps get people inside and in safe positions from dangerous weather conditions. Evacuation procedures help get people out in cases of fire and the like. Lockdown protocol comes into play in the event of an on-campus threat such as a suspected gunman. St. Johns River State College has been continuously making improvements to its lockdown protocol. In fact, every classroom and office door across all three campuses has been retrofitted so that it can be locked from the inside without a key. A seemingly simple measure to take, updating door locks eliminates the need for a professor to step outside of his classroom into the hall to lock the door. Stout said that this had been a major problem in previous school shooting situations. Now, with the proper equipment and training, Stout says the school can be prepared for these situations.
“The faculty and the staff know what our three protocols mean”, Stout said. “If we go into a lockdown, the faculty know what to do – they know how to get everyone together”.
Stout described a newer protocol that is being implemented at St. Johns River State College and at many colleges across the nation under the guidance of the United States Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. “Run, Hide, Fight” protocol outlines what to do in a school or workplace shooting situation.
“If you’re in a position where you can hear the gunfire, run. Get out of the building and far away. If you can’t run, hide. That’s when all the lockdown protocols come into place”, Stout said. “As a last resort, if the gunman comes so close to you, you fight. Do anything you can to stop the shooter – throw things, try and gang tackle the shooter with others – do whatever you can to try and stop the shooter”.
Stout knows now the discussion that is happening at smaller college campuses across the country. Many larger universities have their own police departments with armed officers on duty. Now, smaller schools are following suit and beginning to arm their campus security. At St. Johns River State College, all three campuses have armed security. However, now there is talk of taking security measures to the next level.
“Do we want to go to the next step and become a police department? I expect other colleges are having this discussion”, Stout said.
The effects from the tragic events at Umpqua Community College have reverberated throughout the nation. Colleges across the country are once again faced with thoughts of “it could happen to us”. Florida State College at Jacksonville President Dr. Cynthia Bioteau shared her concerns in an email to students following the attack.
“It is with saddened hearts and disbelief that we try to comprehend the tragedy of yesterday’s Umpqua Community College shootings”, Bioteau said. “I want to personally reach out to each of you in humanity and collegiality to assure you we are each other’s best security and to encourage you to reach out to those around you in similar purpose and support”.
Colleges sharing the close-knit structure of Umpqua Community College are coming together in support of those affected, and are also taking another look at their own security policies in order to prevent similar events for their students, faculty, and staff.