By AMANDA SPADARO
In the event of an active shooter on campus, security and building coordinators feel adequately prepared to handle the emergency, even in light of the Gateway renovations. However, some building coordinators and students feel less prepared should an active shooter situation arise.
Building coordinators and contacts are often instructed in how to handle a variety of emergency situations. The college keeps an emergency operations plan that administrators, security and selected building contacts have access to so that they have a general protocol to follow, depending on the emergency situation.
This manual, which is updated annually as a means of maintaining optimal safety instructions, is not available to the public, simply due to the nature of the information contained in the plan. Therefore, students and all other faculty and staff at the college are potentially at a disadvantage for knowing how to behave in emergency situations.
Because the library remains open after normal business hours, student workers are responsible for keeping the building running. However, it is primarily more experienced student workers who work the later shifts.
“The students who are left in charge when there are no staff members here are usually the more experienced students,” said Linda Bills, director of Pelletier Library.
Aimee Reash, the library’s coordinator of circulation and communication, hoped to begin the conversation with student workers so that they would be more prepared in the event of an active shooter emergency.
The training began with an understanding of the available exits in the library. However, all exits that are available to students are magnetically locked doors, except for the main entrance doors, limiting the exits available for use during an emergency situation. The only way to unlock the doors, according to Alan Bartlett, systems librarian, is to pull the fire alarm.
“The college is revisiting that policy and they will be changing those doors…so that they are like many emergency doors that have a crash-bar with an alarm so that you can still get through them but it sets off an alarm,” Bartlett said. “It’s a fairly common exit strategy for a lot of public buildings.”
The circulation workers were informed that pulling the fire alarms, in case of an emergency, would be a possibility for letting students out of all exits.
“If you’re by the door and you need to get out, all you need to know is ‘pull the fire alarm.’ Unfortunately, you need to know that,” Bills said.
However, Reash is concerned that pulling the fire alarm might only cause students to file through the main exit, which could be problematic in the case of an active shooter, depending on the circumstances.
In emergency scenarios, no two situations are the same, which creates a challenge for thoroughly training anyone in how to handle an active shooter situation. Because of this, Reash trained the student workers using an FBI tutorial video that focused on the three basic ideas of handling an active shooter: run, hide and fight. Students should be primarily focused on running to safety, hiding if they cannot escape and fighting as a last resort.
“Basically, it’s really simple: save yourself. Get out. If you can’t get out, hide. Once you’re safe, call for help. That’s what we tell our students to do,” Bills stated.
Adam Zahren, ’15, a student worker at the circulation desk, said that this was the first time ever that the discussion occurred. According to Zahren, the campus could benefit from an increased seriousness regarding the possibility of an active shooter incident, having been on campus during the manhunt for Keith Green, also known as Tan-on-Tan Man, in 2012.
“[The Tan-on-Tan man incident] wasn’t perceived as a big deal, and honestly, I don’t think we would be prepared to handle a serious, dangerous situation if it were to involve us,” Zahren said, stressing that Allegheny as a community needs to lend more serious thought to the subject. “I don’t think we’re in any state really ready to handle any sort of crisis.”
Because Allegheny’s security is armed only with handcuffs and pepper spray, Meadville police would be the first contact for assistance in extreme situations.
“If we get an active shooter on campus, we’re really going to be dependent on outside agencies for first response,” said Jeffrey Schneider, director of campus security. According to Schneider, local police can be on scene within four minutes, but should the situation merit Special Weapons and Tactics team involvement, wait time can be upwards of 45 minutes.
“Unless the active shooter barricades himself or herself inside a building, it’s going to be over by then. In active shooter cases, typically within the first five minutes, it’s done,” Schneider said. “What you want to do is contain the situation and keep people safe on the outside and then go from there.”
Regardless of the typical situation though, every emergency case, especially with active shooters, can be unique and therefore difficult to train for. Reash also prepared the circulation desk workers for facing the fact that each situation varies.
“Part of the discussion was that every situation is unique…There cannot ever be a protocol to follow. Flexibility is pretty key,” Reash said.
One of the more challenging aspects of handling such emergencies are the number of variables.
“We piece together the puzzle and then we react from there to set up our strategy. That’s what [the emergency operations] manual is for, it’s guidelines to follow,” Schneider said, attesting to the inconsistent nature of active shooter incidents.
Despite the uniqueness of every situation, the subject warrants discussion.
“To not talk about it is nothing but detrimental,” Reash said.
Even though it is an important subject, it is also often an uncomfortable one.
“It’s in preparation for something that might not happen, but could happen. I think it’s a difficult conversation to have,” Zahren said, not discounting the importance of raising questions regarding Allegheny’s preparedness.
Reash and Bills both hope that the college can implement better training for students in particular, perhaps as a Gator Day or orientation program to train students on how to emotionally handle and then react to active shooters or similar emergencies.
Although such active shooter scenarios are not a common or supposedly immediate threat at Allegheny, events like these can still occur anywhere, according to Schneider.
“It can happen anywhere, any time so…you should be prepared for that. The overall question is not necessarily if, but when with the way society is evolving,” he said.
Zahren also believes that despite Allegheny’s community atmosphere, an active shooter event cannot be ruled out entirely.
“Honestly, I think that it could happen. I think that the campus climate is stressful for a lot of people, I think that a lot of people feel lonely,” Zahren said. “I can understand why or how that sort of thing could transpire in this climate.”
Bills believes these issues merit more conversation in the Allegheny community.
“It would be beneficial if there were more open discussion about these possibilities. It would be uncomfortable, but when there’s a disaster, you’re always going to wish you were more prepared,” she said.
In the near future, campus security has plans to practice an active shooter scenario with local law enforcement, but a definitive date has not been set.