SPSU Office of the President
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1100 South Marietta Pkwy
Marietta, GA 30060

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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 like this:

  •  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 were appropriate. 

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.