Nation-wide school shootings spark Oswego State administration response

(Elijah Vary | The Oswegonian)
(Elijah Vary | The Oswegonian)

On Oct. 1 at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, a gunman shot and killed nine people. On Oct. 9, another fatal shooting occurred at Texas Southern University in which one person was killed and one injured. And in nearby Syracuse on Oct. 14, a 15 year old was fatally shot and one 17 year old injured near Syracuse University.

These shootings, and others like them, have raised concerns at Oswego State and across the country about gun violence on or near college campuses. The topic begs the question of what the Oswego State administration has in place if an active shooter situation were to happen on campus.

Following the Oregon shootings and “A Conversation with President Stanley” on Oct. 5—a town hall meeting-style discussion where students, faculty and staff could ask Oswego State President Deborah Stanley questions regarding concerns they may have about campus issues—Stanley sent a campus wide announcement via email on Oct. 7 to address safety concerns.

In the email, Stanley reminded students of the “best practices to stay safe which emergency responders and university administrators have arrived at in consultation with colleagues across the nation in response to emergencies.”
She encouraged students to sign up for Oswego State’s NY-Alert, an email notification system. This is an “opt-in” approach, meaning students choose to sign up for alerts rather than being an “opt-out” method, in which students would automatically be added to the email list and choose to remove themselves.

Jaclyn Schildkraut, an assistant professor of public justice at Oswego State, deals primarily with research in mass shootings and is the co-author of an upcoming book titled “Mass Shootings: Media, Myths, and Realities,” due to be released in Feb. 2016.

Schildkraut is in the process of working with the Dean’s office to replicate research she conducted at Texas State University, where she received her Ph.D, about the campus notification system. She sees the opt-in method as problematic and hopes to improve the frequency at which we are receiving notifications.

“I’m also interested in learning more about the different avenues that we have for alerting,” Schildkraut said. “I know we get text messages and emails here, but in Texas State we had a system where it would take over all of our computers or we had classroom tickers, which I notice none of the classrooms here have.”

Stanley remains confident in the notification system.

“We have been very successful with the opt-in approach, which is what the college community seemed to prefer when we introduced NY-Alert in 2007,” Stanley said. “Currently, 8,574 members of the college community have signed up. That’s pretty close to everyone who is regularly on our campus…With opt-in, people can choose exactly how they want to receive the alerts – email, text, phone – and they can choose more than one phone number and email address.”
Another practice listed in the campus-wide email was watching the active-shooter video, “Run. Hide. Fight: Surviving an Active Shooter Event,” that can be found on the Oswego State University Police website.
The video depicts how to act and respond in the event of an active shooting.

“I personally feel there is valuable information in the video,” Stanley said. “However, we are having discussions about how to provide effective information and training across all members of our campus community. Updated, additional information and new strategies may be added.”

University Police Chief John Rossi held an informational session involving the film “When Lightning Strikes“ on Oct. 14 to help students, faculty and staff better recognize and survive an active shooter situation. According to Chief Rossi, the video on the University Police website is a “shorter, condensed version” of this.

Rossi believes the film is effective for training individuals in an active shooter situation.

“That’s still the best practice from the Department of Homeland Security,” Rossi said. “When they do come out with something else, we will adjust our training to that.”

The shorter video is also shown to Residence Life and Housing staff during training sessions. Assistant Vice President for Residence Life and Housing Richard Kolenda said he hopes the practices shown in the video never have to be utilized for a situation like an active shooter, but stresses the importance of knowing the information in the chance that an event were to happen.

“It’s like anything else when we talk about safety,” Kolenda said. “Fire safety…we get out when the fire alarm goes off. You don’t take your time, because that one time when the fire alarm goes off it could be real. That’s the same thing with this video. You really need to take it to heart, remember it and file it away in the event that there’s an emergency and you follow the concepts that you were taught to do.”

The specific concerns brought up at “A Conversation with President Stanley” regarded the redesign of Waterbury Hall’s front desk, notably the openness of its space.

At the discussion, senior Rebecca Herwood, the Student Operations Services Staff Coordinator (SOSC) for Waterbury Hall, raised concerns about the safety of Waterbury’s front desk following its renovations. At the meeting, Herwood said that she felt the desk is “not the most safe place to be,” especially in the event of an active shooter ever appearing on this campus.

Herwood declined to be interviewed to further explain her safety concerns with the front desk design.

According to Associate Vice President of Facilities Services Mitch Fields, the desk’s design was overseen by Residence Life and Housing.

“The desk’s design was a response on the part of the architect to the direction of [Residence] Life and Housing leadership and staff to a desire for a more open entry desk,” Fields said. “It went through several iterations with [Residence Life and Housing] directing the ultimate solution. I believe many/most of the decisions by [Residence Life and Housing] (as the client/operator) were based on functionality.”
Kolenda described the process involved in designing the desk.

“Before the design for the desk was even conceived, there was a feasibility study and a program study,” Kolenda said. “During that program study, students, staff, maintenance staff, custodial staff, Funnelle students, Waterbury students, Scales students, were all consulted on what they wanted to see, how they wanted to see things. The architects who came and did the study would ask all these questions to different groups of people. Some of them were RAs, some of them were regular students that we were able to get to come to these meetings, and they all had input on what they wanted to see, how they wanted to see it, what was most important to them.”

According to Kolenda, the design was a result of people wanting to see a more open and functional desk.

“The students didn’t want to feel isolated, they wanted to have contact,” Kolenda said. “We also had to make it handicap accessible.”

Despite the openness of the desk area, Kolenda believes it is still safe.

“It is not any more unsafe or safe than any other place on this campus,” Kolenda said.

The Oswego State administration believes the campus is prepared in the event of an active shooter situation.

“Our University Police Department is highly trained,” Stanley said. “We have an effective threat mitigation team and early warning system in place to forecast and intervene to prevent troubled individuals from erupting violently.”

According to Kolenda, in the event of an active shooter, University Police are in charge and will direct his staff and others in what to do. Rossi is confident in University Police’s ability to handle an active shooter threat.
“I have no doubt in my mind that we can respond as needed to any situation that would happen,” Rossi said.

He described “table top exercises” that University Police go through for emergency response training.

“It’s where an emergency situation is basically thrown at you and the facilitator will keep bringing different circumstances into the situation,” Rossi said. “Whatever your position is, you’d have to basically respond to it and it is good because it is a learning experience. Sometimes there’s more than one way to handle a situation and everyone who sits at the table gets to have a large overview of the response.”

Kolenda emphasized the importance of students taking the proper steps to be aware of any possible emergencies and to be knowledgeable of the different alert systems.

“The college is prepared because they have a plan in the event that there is a problem,” Kolenda said. “We have bullhorns on the sides of buildings to tell people when there is an active shooter…we have NY-Alert that will put out the information to students.”

Schildkraut said mass shootings are statistically less likely than most crime.

“The loss of one life is absolutely one too many,” she said. “That being said, we have to keep it in context: homicide in the United States is 0.1 percent of all crimes known to law enforcement. Mass shootings are 0.01 percent of the 0.1 percent.”

However, she also highlighted the importance of staying alert.

“One important point we need to change is the mentality that it can never happen here,” she said.