By Danyelle Roquemore
It’s easy to believe that school shootings are rare and won’t happen here, but with the two most recent tragedies occurring within six weeks of each other — including one in Texas — the need for heightened campus awareness is at an all-time high.
Some campuses are changing their policies and procedures in light of the Newtown and Lone Star College shootings. The Dallas County Community College District, however, is making only minor changes.
Most of the district’s procedural changes happened in 2007 following the Virginia Tech massacre, but no changes have resulted from the Newtown and Lone Star shootings.
“We have a very complete policy with regard to fire drills and emergency intruder lockdowns. We have all our mechanisms in place,” said Sharon Cook, assistant to the president.
However, the district is always looking to update policies and procedures that are already in place to ensure student, staff and faculty safety.
“You never want to say that you’re as prepared as you can be. We can always do better,” President Jean Conway said. “Every time we have an incident we have an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, what went right and what needs improvement?’”
Cook and Police Chief Michael Horak said that student, staff and faculty awareness is a key component in keeping the campus safe.
All members of the campus community should know where to evacuate in an emergency. The evacuation map that explains this part of the emergency procedure can be found on the campus website. Another key part of the evacuation plan is to get at least 100 feet away from the building.
The new alert system which can be accessed through the eConnect menu under “DCCCD Emergency Alerts Information” also sends out notices about emergency situations. Students and employees with an eConnect account automatically receive emails when there is an emergency, but do not receive alerts via telephone or text message unless they sign up for them by inputting an emergency phone number.
History professors Dr. Jerry Henson and Mike Noble show the video “Keeping Safe in a Campus Emergency,” which can also be found on the school’s website, during the first week of classes to ensure their students know how to react.
“One of the reasons for alerting the class and getting them to think about the dangers is that when two or three people in the class panic and start screaming, there are people who’ll [cover their mouths],” Henson said. “[We try to] get them to think about it in advance because once you have a kind of mental plan in the back of your mind, you can keep your wits about you.”
The video explains that students should listen to and follow all instructions from the College Emergency Response Team (CERT) or first responders, such as firefighters. If there is a shooter on campus, the procedure is to call 911 from a campus phone or 972-860-4290 so campus police can know where the call is coming from. Students and employees should stay calm and put as many walls between themselves and the shooter as possible.
Some student groups prefer a more proactive approach to school violence. Organizations like Students for Concealed Carry believe the best way to combat incidents like those that occurred at Newtown and Lone Star College is to allow licensed students to carry handguns on campus.
“Allowing licensed concealed carry would give potential attackers pause and ultimately give innocent victims a fighting chance,” said David Burnett, the group’s spokesperson.
Even though the group believes that concealed carry on campuses would benefit students, Noble thinks that the trend will be negative.
“If the law does go into effect, I think we’ll see more instances of the violence and accidents,” Noble said.
Knowing about the campus’ procedure is important, but so is practicing them in a drill. A campus-wide police activity lockdown drill will be held sometime this semester.
“An alert will go out and we will see that everybody goes into a classroom or other areas to get locked in,” Horak said.
If an emergency were to occur, Conway wants to ensure that the campus police and CERT members are well equipped.
“We are working hard to get first responder kits for each [officer] which includes a helmet, some kind of shield and a bulletproof vest because they need to be able to have those three items, so that if something happens, [they can] immediately get those on and they can protect themselves so that they can protect other people,” Conway said.