In the aftermath of Seung-Hui Cho’s massacre of 32 students, the Virginia Tech community had the horrific task of wondering why and how such a tragedy could have occurred.
UC Davis officials hope they will never have to ask the same question.
Efforts to prevent such an event from occurring at UC Davis were in effect well before the Virginia Tech incident, but campus officials have increased their efforts even more so since then. The Aggie sat down with several campus safety experts to measure the progress.
Preparing for a catastrophe
When a life-threatening emergency breaks out on campus, students need to know, said Valerie Lucas, the emergency manager of Safety Services.
Lucas, who has been employed by the university for two and a half years, has led the effort to implement UC Davis‘ new emergency response system – appropriately called “WarnMe” – which will notify students of potentially life-saving information by a medium of their choice. The vender of the system, Wide Area Rapid Notification, is currently serving five other UC campuses, Lucas said.
Not only could the warning system be the difference between life and death, but it could also satisfy the public’s need to be apprised of a situation, she said.
“There are a lot of expectations now,” Lucas said. “One of the things Virginia Tech did was [instill] a real feeling that something should have gotten out right away. We want to be able to communicate with everyone on campus.“
The university, which ran emergency notification tests last February, will begin asking students to give personal information for WarnMe in the coming month and during winter quarter course registration process. They will also be able to specify how they prefer to be contacted in an emergency, Lucas said. At the moment, the system only has UC Davis students‘ e-mail addresses.
Contact information in WarnMe will not be used for any other information, Lucas said. The system will also only be used if part of the campus is in imminent danger, as campus officials do not want to panic or desensitize students with repeated, unnecessary bulletins.
UC Davis‘ Emergency Operation Center, located next to TAPS by the ARC Pavilion, serves as a gathering place for a slew of campus departments in the event of a large emergency. The EOC team meets once per month and has several full-scale emergency simulations a year, Lucas said.
Responding to the Crisis
Until recently, 911 calls made from cell phones on campus were directed to the California Highway Patrol. Now, however, those calls will go to the UC Davis Police Department, which could have personnel on the scene of a life-threatening emergency within two minutes, said Captain Joyce Souza.
The department has worked with Student Health to develop a safety plan in the event of a Virginia Tech-scale catastrophe. On Oct. 22, the department will conduct a drill to measure its progress, Souza said.
The police department has evolved its emergency procedures in response to both the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 and the Virginia Tech incident in 2007. After the Columbine incident, instead of waiting for SWAT teams to arrive on-scene, police have moved to immediate response, Souza said.
The UC Davis Police Department implemented the tactic, called “Active Shooter Response,” in 2002, she said.
“Calling a SWAT team was just too long and too many people died,“ Souza said. “In an active situation where people are being hurt or injured, law enforcement devised a technique to train and go on and isolate the threat. We’re equipped to go in immediately.“
After Virginia Tech, the UC Davis police decided its weak link in crisis response was public education. The public needs to know how to react during an active shooter scenario until law enforcement arrives, Souza said. As a result, the UCD police’s active shooter presentation was born.
“Our law enforcement agency is just like any community law enforcement agency – the community and the police must work together,” Souza said.
The seminar is offered free to the public, and can be given for large groups by request, Souza said. Students are especially encouraged to attend a presentation, as the information is unfortunately essential in today’s world, she said.
In the event students hear gunfire in a hallway, they should never look outside and see what’s happening, Souza said. If there’s no alternative escape route to get away from the noise, they should shelter in place and call 911. If they’re in an area where people are already hurt, they should play dead if there’s no other way out, she said. All of these tips and more are covered more in-depth in the presentations, Souza said.
“We go through techniques to show ways you might be able to survive. It’s important for everyone,” Souza said. Such incidents occur not only at schools, but in other public places, such as shopping malls and businesses, she said.
No one should ever call the 911 dispatcher to request information, Souza said. Doing so can interfere with law enforcement response and thus endanger others‘ lives, she said. The WarnMe system will disseminate reliable information as soon as it’s available.
However, people are always encouraged to call 911 if they can provide any useful information during an emergency situation, Souza said.
Keeping the Residence Halls Safe
“Students can impact their safety in a lot of different ways based on their activities,“ said Student Housing director Emily Galindo.
Student Housing encourages students to lock doors and windows, to not allow strangers to follow them into the residence halls and to report anything that appears suspicious. The residence halls are “as safe as our behavior allows it to be,” Galindo said.
Galindo said residence hall advisers are extensively trained to detect suspicious behavior and reinforce safety policies.
“It’s all about education,” she said. “It’s all about trying to bring behaviors to students‘ attention. We do lots of training awareness.“
In addition to Student Housing’s prevention strategies, the UC Davis Police Department routinely patrols the residence halls, Galindo said.
What You Can Do
There are a variety of roles students, staff and faculty can play to help prevent a tragedy at UC Davis.
Students are encouraged to enter their emergency notification contact information when they are prompted to this month.
Students who observe a troubled student or staff member can contact Counseling and Psychological Services, which has a response team to deal with such situations, said UC Davis spokesperson Julia Ann Easley. CAPS has experienced an increase in both staff and funding in the past year, according to a UC Davis news release.
Students can also become involved with the Emergency Operation Center. Lucas said she is seeking an intern, and interested students should e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Groups of people from the campus community can schedule an active shooter workshop hosted by the UC Davis Police Department. For more information or to schedule a workshop, visit police.ucdavis.edu/active_shooter.htm.
Finally, students, staff, faculty and citizens of the Davis community can participate in the UC Davis Police Department’s Citizens Academy. Aside from learning more about law enforcement, students can earn up to two units of credit. For more information, visit police.ucdavis.edu/citizens.htm.
For more information on campus emergency procedures, go to ucdavis.edu/help/safety.html.
PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at email@example.com.