Active Shooter, Big Problems: Lessons Learned

Guilbert Brown Gangela vincentuilbert Brown (left)
Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Office of the Chancellor
Acting Assistant Vice Chancellor

Angela  Vincent
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Chief of Police

 

Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (EUP) is a regional public university with approximately 6,000 students situated in a resort community of about the same size. In 2016 EUP was ranked among the top 30 safest college campuses in the nation. Nevertheless within a four month period from November 2014 – March 2015 EUP experienced two active shooter situations resulting in campus lockdowns. In this presentation two members of EUP’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) including its Chief of Police and Vice President for Finance & Administration describe the strengths, weaknesses and lessons learned from two such events within a relatively short time period. Lessons from the first incident resulted in improvements in the ERT response to the second; however, issues outside the immediate control of the ERT in the second incident indicated a further need for improved coordination in the future.

On November 17, 2014 a shooting occurred one block from the EUP campus. Witnesses at the scene described up to two armed gunmen heading in the direction of the university fieldhouse where a men’s basketball game was just beginning and hundreds of students and members of the community were watching. EUP implemented its active shooter protocol, issuing text message timely notice alerts to all members of the campus community and ultimately calling for a general campus lockdown. As the Emergency Response Team convened at the police station – at that time the designated Emergency Operations Center (EOC) –  shortcomings in preparation for such an event soon became apparent. Telephone lines were flooded with calls from national and local media, concerned parents, and faculty and students in classrooms across campus. The flood of phone calls competed with incident response actions. EOC computers, when started up, required operating system updates that rendered them useless for long periods of time. The command structure itself was tested, as was coordination between the EUP police department, local town police and Pennsylvania State Police who had been present in the fieldhouse at the time of the lockdown and now were participating in the emergency response. There were multiple unknowns: were the perpetrators locked inside the fieldhouse or located elsewhere in locked facilities on campus? Communication between law enforcement agencies was key to ultimately lifting the lockdown. In the debrief following this incident EUP made note of multiple needed improvements in its emergency response plan for active shooter situations.

Those plan revisions were tested when on March 20, 2015 another shooting occurred near campus. EUP again issued a timely warning followed by a campus lockdown based on a possible armed robbery, shooting victim and assault victim. Because the event occurred after 11 p.m. and the lockdown was lifted around 6 a.m. there was not as much on campus activity as during the prior incident. The ERT communicated effectively and was kept updated throughout the night via a bridge phone line. Compared to the prior incident, campus communications were nearly flawless. However, communications shortcomings between law enforcement agencies ultimately delayed resolution of the lockdown by EUP.

The presenters will describe how, in these situations, communications were key to driving decisions and effective action. The many lessons learned from both situations will be described and discussed.

Takeaways

  • Communications: The importance of constant communication with the campus community: frequent updates. Timely decision making re: alerts, lockdown, etc. The importance of sharing information between campus and local police agencies in order to make informed decisions for the safety of the entire community. Having procedures in place to handle non-emergency calls for the purpose of allowing police dispatch the ability to handle the emergency at hand.
  • Lockdown: Identification of the lockdown capabilities of each building and who is responsible for the lockdown of non-electronically controlled buildings. The ability to lockdown campus remotely with the push of a button (not able to do this yet but still very important). Emphasis needs to be placed on the occupants securing their room when there is a delay in securing the exterior of the building. The importance of training students and employees on active shooter situations (e.g., ALICE training).
  • Emergency Planning: Importance of continuous emergency planning and exercising the plans. Importance of chain of command in fast-paced emergency situations.

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