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Nov 30 2016
by Anna DiGiacomo

How College Campuses Respond in Emergency Situations

By Anna DiGiacomo - Nov 30 2016

On Monday morning, Ohio State University student Abdul Razak Ali Artan drove his car into a crowd on the college campus and started attacking students with a large butcher knife. Police quickly responded to the scene and ended the altercation by fatally shooting the attacker. In total, CNN reports that eleven people were sent to the hospital but, thankfully, all are expected to recover.

Unfortunately, this is hardly the first incident of violence on a college campus, nor is it likely to be the last. After all, just months ago, UCLA experienced a shooting, and in 2015 Winston-Salem State University was under attack. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult for colleges to prevent these incidents. Amongst other reasons, colleges are simply too large to be accurately defended - both in size and in population. As such, college campuses are among the top targets for these heinous attacks.

Nevertheless, this should not be a cause of panic. Despite what many media outlets report, the Associated Press cites that crime has actually gone down on college campuses. In fact, Princeton professor Wayne Biven-Tatum claims that the probability of being involved in a deadly altercation on a college campus is around 0.00000143 percent. Furthermore, with some simple precautions, individuals can greatly increase their level of personal safety beyond these odds.

How Colleges Have Responded

The deadliest mass shooting on college campuses occurred on April 17, 2007 at Virginia Tech. Later dubbed the "Virginia Tech Massacre," 32 people were killed. Yet, this shooting served as a turning point in campus safety.

Investigations after the tragedy showed that many colleges and universities utilized outdated and inefficient emergency plans. In response, campuses rushed to update their communications systems and train first responders how to handle campuses threats. Within five months of the Virginia Tech massacre, the University of Iowa launched its Hawk Alert program, part of which included installing emergency sirens across the campus. This was among the first of its kind and revolutionized how colleges communicated with their students in times of crisis. It currently has been updated to communicate through cell phones and other modern devices.

Today, practically all colleges are taking advantage of modern technology and smart phones with their own version of 'Hawk Alert.' Colleges now have the capability to send alerts to individual phones, such as UNC Chapel Hill's 'Alert Carolina' system or Temple University's 'TUAlerts.' Other common emergency platforms include Twitter accounts and hotline phone numbers.

Image courtesy of Kent Williams via Flickr Creative Commons

In addition to improving communication, universities are also looking to train their staff and student body to increase security. However, this approach has always been difficult for universities simply due to the frequent turnover of the student population. Virginia Tech rallied around this problem by introducing a new centralized website containing a variety of emergency plans. This information also appears in their app “LiveSafe.” Not only does this app make information more readily available for students, it also keeps the phone lines open in emergency situations - yet another problem with large universities.

Image courtesy of Penn State via Flickr Creative Commons

Finally, the Virgina Tech massacre also pushed many colleges to create 'threat assessment offices.' These groups identify a dangerous situation and do everything in their power to prevent an incident from occurring. Northern Illinois University was the first to implement such a program after six students were shot in 2008. Today, USA Today reports that nearly 80 percent of colleges have created similar programs, and the states of Virginia and Illinois require them by law.

Proposed Legislation

Unfortunately, even with so much reform, violent incidents are still taking place on college campuses. This has opened the door for one of the biggest issues campus safety: guns. Although laws and individual university policy ban students and faculty from carrying concealed firearms in 41 states, some education leaders are beginning to question this approach. The argument stands that if certain members of the population were allowed to carry weapons, colleges would no longer be such a tempting target for school shooters. Additionally, if a school allowing concealed carry was attacked, advocates believe the shooter will be more easily subdued and fewer people would get hurt.  Currently, seven states allow concealed carry on campus with another 15 introducing bills to legalize campus concealed carry.

Image courtesy of Students for Concealed Carry at Texas A&M

Individual Action

Unfortunately, there isn’t much one can do to avoid a campus threat before it even happens. After all, these events are random and unpredictable - no one would willingly put themselves in this situation if they knew it could be avoided. However, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) advises that students always remain aware of their surroundings and keep an eye out for any suspicious activity. If someone is acting strangely, it's better to walk away then to run the risk of them being dangerous.

If you do find yourself in an actively dangerous situation, the Department of Homeland Security reports the first step is to evacuate. Don't wait for others, don’t attempt to carry your belongings and don’t attempt to carry wounded people with you. This last piece may sound cruel, but you should always ensure your safety first.

If evacuation is not possible, then the DHS advises you to hide. While your hiding place should be out of the attacker's view, you must also make sure there is a means of escape. Never lock yourself in one place where you could potentially be trapped.

If these others options cannot be taken, then your last line of defense should be taking action against the attacker. This may involve throwing objects, attacking or even yelling - anything to disrupt him or her.

Most importantly, the Department of Homeland Security urges you to commit to your plan of action. Hesitation and indecisiveness are the quickest way to get yourself hurt or worse.

Lead Image: Kate Wellington via Flickr Creative Commons

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Anna DiGiacomo - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Anna is a freshman Strategic Communications major at UNC Chapel Hill. She played varsity soccer in high school and besieged the student body with libertarianism. She now spends her time annoying her roommate, catching Bruce Springsteen concerts and getting lost while pretending to camp. Follow her on Instagram @digiacomoa

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