“I’m shooting up the school. Tomorrow. Stay in your rooms. The ones on the quad are the ones who will go first.”
Only a few years ago, an Oxford College sophomore posted that message on social media platform Yik Yak, threatening a mass shooting over fall break. Emory Police Department (EPD) arrested the student the day of the threat, but student government representatives claimed a lack of communication between the administration and students caused unnecessary panic on campus. News about the threat had spread via word of mouth and social media for 20 hours before any official University communication was released. Emory responded, “We’ve concluded that a more timely campus communication following the student’s arrest would have benefited the community.”
But in the years since the incident, Emory’s emergency response systems have remained insufficient.
Amid a period of mass shootings in schools and public spaces, Emory is not exempt from a responsibility to prepare for such an event on or near campus. Emory’s Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response (CEPAR) must act to ensure emergency responses communicate sufficient information and update emergency procedures to address active-shooter threats.
Just last semester, Emory issued a “shelter in place” alert on Sept. 20, 2017, in response to the escape of a fugitive from the nearby Atlanta VA Medical Center. The “shelter in place” directive is vague and confusing, and the campus response was inconsistent and panicked. Some professors took precautionary measures within their classrooms, even barricading doors, while others seemed to ignore the alerts and continued teaching class as usual. False rumors of a shooter circulated the community as professors and students alike were unsure of how to respond.
The Wheel reported this week that Emory will no longer issue emergency alerts except in cases where human life is imminently threatened, but more needs to change for those alerts to be effective in a true emergency. Community members need information about the nature and location of a threat and specific instructions about how to proceed to safety. According to CEPAR’s senior administrator Sam Shartar, future alerts will include that information. Unlike after the Oxford threat, CEPAR must ensure that those changes are implemented quickly and effectively.
For active shooter situations, CEPAR recommends a “run, hide, fight” response on its website. The strategy originated from a video produced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the City of Houston’s Mayor’s Office of Public Safety. The video recommends people either flee or seek shelter, and, as a last resort, tells victims to “act with aggression” to incapacitate an assailant.
While the five-minute video is far from comprehensive, peer institutions such as the Georgia Institute of Technology and Duke University (N.C.) follow similar protocols and cite the same video. That is unsurprising, as the unpredictable nature of shootings makes formulating a standard response nearly impossible.
The unfortunate reality is that there’s only so much the University can do once a shooting has started. Thankfully, Emory is currently reviewing its current safety measures and those of peer institutions.
But CEPAR can do more to facilitate “run, hide, fight” strategies. Distributing more information during an emergency and ensuring that every room on campus has a door that locks are concrete steps Emory can take to ensure everyone’s safety.
Emory must focus on measures to prevent violent events such as campus shootings and violent threats. CEPAR is rolling out a three-stage video program to help Emory managers, faculty and students identify potential threats to campus safety. The program will educate the community on how to report potential threats to Emory’s Threat Assessment Team, a group that investigates threats and refers individuals to health services or to law enforcement.
As students across the country lobby for gun control legislation, updating University policy and procedure is just a small part of what Emory should do to help prevent future shootings. The Emory community has a rare opportunity to take part in a national movement for gun control being fueled largely by students. It’s imperative we seize the opportunity.
The above Editorial represents the consensus opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.
The editorial board is composed of Nora Elmubarak, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Isabeth Mendoza, Boris Niyonzima, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois and Mathew Sperling.