Testing our processes
I was in class last Tuesday evening (I’m auditing Betty Oliver’s ARTS 2110 course,
Introduction to Painting, this semester) when my cell phone started vibrating – along
with those of most of the other students in the class. A text message, an e-mail
message, and a phone call arrived in rapid succession, warning me that “a crime is
in progress” and to “shelter in place.”
As much as all of us wish that the world around us were completely safe, this is not
the reality of modern life. The incident on campus Tuesday night involved an altercation
between two people, and, as the saying goes, “shots were fired.” One person was injured
– a student who attends SPSU. He apparently got himself to Grady Hospital, where
he was treated and released. The incident is still under investigation.
The good news is that the injury was not life threatening, that all our processes
worked, and that we had great cooperation from the Marietta Police Department. Most
of the people on campus that evening did as those messages requested – stayed inside,
away from windows, and waited for an all-clear signal. Classes continued – or at
least mine did.
Here are a few examples of things that happened the way we want them to in a situation
- A witness called the University Police at 678.915.5555 – which is the right number
to call to report a problem on campus. Calling 911 reaches an off-campus site where
someone then has to call SPSU’s police for information on the location. The person
who made the call did exactly the right thing.
- Hornet Alert functioned properly. Given the volume of messages being processed, the
alerts cannot all be delivered simultaneously, but I received the messages in all
the ways I had requested.
- The SPSU Police responded quickly, as did the Marietta Police Department. The importance
of building good working relationships before you need them was evident – and valuable.
- Media coverage by television, radio, and newspapers was reasonably accurate. Although
no university wants its name in the same headline as “shooting,” the media reports
We also learned some important lessons on Tuesday night about how we, as a community,
can be better prepared for emergencies.
- We can remind members of the SPSU community about the importance of keeping contact
information current on Hornet Alert. I checked at http://www.spsu.edu/police/ and discovered that I had an old e-mail address and cell phone number listed there
(along with others that are correct), and I have now updated my information.
- We can schedule more alerts as tests, so that everyone on campus understands the alert
system and knows how they are expected to respond. Some students reported that they
“thought the message was a joke.” Test messages are clearly announced as such, and
they are critical to periodically checking that the systems are working.
- We need a plan for how to manage building security on evenings and weekends. Each
building has a coordinator who is responsible for securing that building in an emergency
– evacuating, sheltering in place, or whatever response is appropriate. The University
Police are working on plans now for how to manage situations that happen at times
outside of the “regular” working day.
- We need to find the appropriate balance between sharing information with the university
community and ensuring its accuracy. The Police and Public Relations cannot – and
should not -- report on rumor and speculation, and gathering the facts takes time.
Information was posted on the SPSU website by about 11 p.m., but not before faculty,
staff, and students had tweeted and texted their speculations – some of them quite
creative – into cyber space. As a community, we need to be responsible and thoughtful
about how we use our communication tools, and to be sure that solid information is
shared as quickly as possible.
So here’s what individual members of the university community can do to help make
the campus – and themselves – safer:
- Check your contact information on Hornet Alert – and update it, if needed.
- Take alert messages and their directions seriously.
- Remain calm.
- Avoid spreading rumors about an incident.
Since last Tuesday, I have come to realize what all the other presidents in the University
System of Georgia were thinking: “Thank God, that’s not my campus.”
I’m not glad that the incident happened, but I am reassured that we have procedures
in place to respond to situations like what happened last week. We are fortunate
to be able to use that incident as a learning opportunity, to plan more refreshers
and reviews of our processes for responding in emergency situations, to continuously
improve our responses, and – always-- to focus on the goal of providing a safe campus
environment for learning, living, and teaching.