by Emily Nye
Juniata College Public Safety is finalizing their annual revision of the Emergency Operations Plan just as numerous active shooter events occurred at various higher education institutions around the U.S.
“When these things happen everyone wants to ask ‘well are we prepared, are we ready?’ and we are,” said Jesse Leonard, Juniata’s director of Public Safety and interim director of Residential Life and Housing.
Juniata’s 11 sworn officers are certified in PA Lethal Weapons Training Act 235 and have been trained in active shooter techniques developed by the ALICE Institute, which is the first and leading active shooter response program in the U.S.
“I want people to know the officers did 400 plus hours of training last year in various things,” said Leonard. Juniata’s officers are former game commissioners, correctional officers, Philadelphia policemen, firemen, EMT and first responders. “We are highly trained in lots of different areas and we have lots of different skill sets that we can bring to the table,” said Leonard.
“I find it more comforting that JCPS has gone through so much training. I wish it was more public,” said senior Stevie Kitching.
Located on the Public Safety page of Juniata’s website is the Emergency Operations Plan (EOP), which lays out the procedures campus officers, the Incident Management Team and students would take in the event of an active shooter scenario.
“The emergency operations plan is in its final stages of being edited, and then the president will sign off, and we’ll put the new version online here in a month or so,” said Leonard.
In the coming months, Public Safety will have their annual meetings with the Borough police and the Incident Management Team to review the EOP. As a result of these meetings, Leonard said, “We’re better practiced with what we can expect from each other, and what we can expect from our plan, and if our plans meet our needs.”
The current procedures state that in the event of an emergency, the Juniata College Early Warning Siren Alert will notify campus when to ‘secure in place’ – secure the room and take cover. This particular update will focus on shifting the emergency operations plan from the ‘Secure In Place’ procedure in the event of an active shooter, to the ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ procedure, similar to ALICE training.
The ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ procedure explains that in an emergency situation, such as an active shooter incident, “if you can get out – get out, if you can’t get out you need to hide (secure in place), and as a last resort you need to fight back,” said Leonard.
There are five strategies to the ALICE program: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. On the officer’s ALICE training, Leonard said, “We’re actually all trained as trainers so any student organization or faculty member that wants us to bring active shooter training to their classroom we can. It’s a lot of training on what an active shooter typically looks like, how long (active shooter events) last, what are some behaviors and traits.”
“I felt better knowing that professors were also being trained in a formal sense so students were not the only ones who had to take charge. There would be an authority person in the classroom that has the knowledge, could scan a situation and take control without too much thinking,” said senior Catherine Moyer.
Juniata Officer Tim Hughes spoke of the ALICE techniques, “Instead of crawling under a desk and being an easy, stationary target, ALICE gives you the training to actually take action.” As a civilian there are some benefits to the ALICE training, “You are trained in techniques to barricade the door, if the intruder did enter the room you would throw things at him, get to him and secure the weapon. ALICE training is common sense, but it’s not common knowledge,” said Hughes.
Interim Assistant Dean of Students Ellen Campbell has also had ALICE training and she spoke of how the program changes your mindset. “You might only have a few seconds, but a few seconds of thinking can get you pretty far in terms of what is going to be our plan,” said Campbell. A crucial element taught in the ALICE training is to know your surroundings and what is available for you to use to fight back.
Immediately after notification of an armed intruder, the officers would respond to the scene and while responding they would contact dispatch to call the Borough and State police for backup. “We do have direct communication with the 911 dispatch center which is a rare thing for a small private school,” said Leonard.
The Borough Police and State Police are headquartered within 4 miles and could come to Juniata’s aid. Nationwide less than 4 percent of private institutions have mutual aid agreements with both the local and state police. “Though we might be rural in location, we’re not remote from support,” said Leonard.
FBI statistics from 2000 to 2013 show 23 percent of active shooters were ascertained in less than 2 minutes and 69 percent within 5 minutes. This same data states all of the higher education shootings were completed by people connected to the institution.
Leonard emphasized one key quality of Juniata officers, “They are all very good, community-oriented officers so they understand that we value getting to know our students, reaching out and making those connections. A lot of times in a high stress situation having those relationships and connections allow us to be more successful.”
Campbell discussed the potentially chaotic scene after an active shooter is ascertained where Residential Life would be the first line of responders, “The biggest thing is making sure that people’s basic needs are met that they have the shelter, that they start to feel safe again and then what can we do to help them proceed through that process.” Officer Hughes suggested another rally point for Juniata students: JC Blair Hospital.
Based on 2012 FBI statistics, only 22 percent of private institutions under 5,000 students had sworn, armed officers, which makes Juniata’s Public Safety Department unique. “It does make me feel better that, worst case scenario, they do carry weapons,” said Moyer.
In Juniata College’s 139 years of operation, there has never been an active shooter on campus. “We (security officers) have never unholstered our firearms on campus,” said Leonard. Campbell spoke of the community atmosphere, “I do feel safe, I think that that can sometimes lead itself to a sense of complacency.”
Leonard hopes the students, faculty and community take “comfort in knowing we’re ready if something like that were to happen.”
Senior Laurel Watkins said of the Emergency Operations Plan, “I don’t think many people are going to read a 50 page document. If there was some way for that (active shooter protocols) to be more easily accessible that would make me feel a little better.”
With reference to the EOP, “I think this is something that we should all be aware of, but until you (interviewer) brought it up I didn’t know anything,” said Kitching.
Based on the current gun policy for campus, “What is scary is someone who is not stable could easily have a weapon in their car or dorm,” said Watkins.
Avid hunter and senior Devin Apple said, “I think Public Safety should have a background check done by the ATF to see if their gun is registered and if there are warrants on it for a five dollar fee.”
Some students think that although Public Safety and Juniata’s faculty and administration are prepared for an active shooter event, all students should be aware of Juniata’s procedures. “We could have an awareness week once every two or three years that was put on by Public Safety and the Dean of Students office and during that time talk about it in classes and have campus-wide training,” said Watkins.
Active shooter incidents have been on the rise since 2000; however FBI statistics state only 7.5 percent of active shooter incidents occurred in institutions for higher education, while 45.6 percent occurred in places of commerce. “It’s unfortunate, but it can happen anywhere, and that’s why we are always prepared for it,” said Leonard.
Categories: Volume 97 Issue 3 News