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In case of emergency: DPS encourages colleges to host more seminars on campus shooting safety

Graphic illustration by Chloe Meister | Design Editor

Whenever a campus shooting happens, the Department of Public Safety gets a spike in the amount of information requests for safety procedures.

With multiple campus shootings in the last month alone, including Michigan State University, Purdue University and South Carolina State University, DPS is encouraging deans and department heads for all schools at Syracuse University to host training seminars.

The sessions aren’t mandatory, and are only given upon request by a group. John Sardino, DPS associate chief, said officers held 18-20 seminars in 2013.

The most recent seminar that was hosted drew about 40 professors in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, which Sardino said was one of the most successful seminars they’ve seen.

“That was probably the best session I’ve been at because they asked a lot of pertinent questions about what to do and how to do it,” Sardino said.

Questions at the seminar ranged from “how do I know if a gunshot is down the hall or right here?” to “how do I get the door locked?” Sardino said.

But not all seminars are the same or as informative as the one held in Newhouse. DPS chief Tony Callisto said the sizes of the audience vary, as they’re requested by different departments and the length of each meeting is determined by whoever requested it.

He added that the lowest attendance was in front of three people, but other times there’s been 120 people listening to safety protocols. Callisto also said some audiences may be more engaged than others.

“We have the ability to talk about this for five minutes or an hour. We can do PowerPoint presentations that are more comprehensive,” he said. “If there’s an interest out there, we’ll tailor the presentation to the time that’s allotted.”

New employees at SU are already mandated to go through an orientation program to learn the background information of how to handle an active shooter on campus by reading the Emergency Preparation Guidelines instructions online and watching “Shots Fired,” a two-minute instructional video available on MySlice.

Sardino said he believes the orientation program provides strong background knowledge on what to do in the event of a campus shooting, and added that Orange Alert serves as an even better set of instructions in an emergency.

“If nothing else, we want people to pay attention to the Orange Alert and follow the instruction that we provide if there’s ever an incidence,” he said.

But even with a clear set of instructions from the campus-wide alert system, professors still had a hard time figuring out what to do during a shooting near campus in 2008, said Colleen Kepler, the building coordinator of Huntington Beard Crouse Hall.

Text messages, emails and phone calls went out to more than 27,600 students, faculty and staff members on Nov. 24, 2008, with instructions saying to head indoors and lock their offices after a drive-by shooting on Madison Street, she said.

Although the instructions were clear and simple, Kepler recalled how there were students still on the quad and professors still teaching their classes.

“Faculty kept coming in and asking me what to do, even though the instructions from Orange Alert said to stay inside their offices, so it led to a lot of confusion,” she added. “There were faculty who just wouldn’t do it.”

If the incident happened today, Kepler said she felt more people would take the instructions seriously because DPS has a bigger role in raising awareness, but believes there would still be faculty members who would ignore the instructions.

In August of last semester, Kepler requested DPS host a training seminar for the languages, literatures and linguistics department staff, where she ended up learning there were a lot of vulnerabilities of her office.

Kepler said the seminar highlighted many areas of weakness, and the four staff members who attended have already changed their behavior based on what they’ve learned.

“[The officer] identified what our safe room would be, safe room procedures for us, and those were all specific acts that we could do that we had never even outlined or discussed before, so we’re absolutely better prepared, strictly based on her presentation,” she said.

Even with the mandatory orientation and the voluntary training sessions, some professors are still looking for more information when it comes to handling a shooting on campus.

Sardino said between himself and Callisto, they receive about two or three calls a week from faculty members asking what the best practices are when there’s an active gunman on campus.

“Everybody has heard about these situations, and I think they’ve said to themselves, ‘I haven’t really taken a step in knowing what to do,’” Sardino said. “We’re seeing that the faculty and staff are concerned about this and they want to know what it is they can do.”

He said he feels faculty members at SU are as prepared for a shooting as they possibly can be, and the most important task is for people to familiarize themselves with their surroundings. He added that during the meeting with Newhouse faculty members, they were really aware of their surroundings, but that’s not always the case with professors in other presentations.

Sardino said if people on campus are unaware of their surroundings, then the instructions distributed throughout Orange Alert become useless.

“We can send that information out all day long,” he said. “But if a student or a faculty member or staff member doesn’t know how to get there, it’s certainly not serving its purpose.”

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