Following a mandate by President Holland, there has been an increased effort to promote safety and awareness to avoid a similar tragedy at Utah Valley University. The number of departments that have completed live trainings has almost doubled since the beginning of the new year in preparation for such an incident.
“It’s out there and it’s happening, and it’s happening on college campuses,” said Robin Ebmeyer, director of Emergency Risk Management Services. “It seems to be a bigger threat, so that’s a huge challenge, which is what we’re trying to overcome by going out and doing these presentations.”
The Safe Campus Training goes through different scenarios and options, including discussion on how to look for warning signs among troubled and out-of-control students and how to defuse potentially hostile situations.
Mark Diamond, a recruiter intern with Perspective Student Services, was notified about a month in advance that his office would receive the training. In December, he and his coworkers took the training during a weekly staff meeting.
The Emergency Risk Management office, which deals primarily with the health, safety and emergency preparedness of faculty and staff on campus, trained Diamond’s.
“They walked us through things we could do if there was an active shooter,” Diamond said. “They showed us a YouTube video about it and gave us options of what to do. I think they were run, hide and fight.”
Until then, Diamond said he hadn’t considered what he would do if an active shooter was on campus.
“I guess it made it seem more real,” Diamond said. “That’s something you never imagine happening; you never know what could happen. It made me think through what I would do if something like that were to happen.”
As part of the training, the Emergency Risk Management team has tried to create awareness of existing alert programs on campus. Ebmeyer said almost half of the faculty is unaware of programs such as the opt-in emergency text message service, a system meant to alert those registered of dangers and threats on campus.
More than 15,000 students and faculty members have opted-in to the program. While the number is still lower than the administration wants it to be, having between 25 to 30 percent of the campus signed up is normal for the nation.
“The hope is if you can get to a certain percentage, that if that text message goes out, then everyone in a classroom will get that, even if it just goes to one or two of those students,” Ebmeyer said.
The university is currently trying to purchase a larger system that could send more messages and accommodate the entire student body in preparation for more students to opt-in to the alerts.
The administration is also working on fixing reception problems on campus. Their first concern is increasing the coverage of public safety radios, such as those used by the police.
Beyond the use of text messages, other emergency alert programs are being implemented so individuals don’t have to rely on just one form of communication.
Certain faculty members and campus police have access to an alert system that sends messages to the digital signage, computer labs, and all computers logged on with the proper program installed—a default for faculty and staff. This will allow for an emergency message to appear across campus and in classrooms as quickly as it is sent out.
The fire alarm system in newer buildings on campus, such as the library, science building and the student life building currently under construction, can be used as a PA system allowing for fast, vocal alerts.
Due to the high cost of upgrading the system of older buildings on campus, efforts to update have been slow-moving.
Ray Walker, IT Director on campus, said they’re currently looking into an app for iPhone and Android that will receive the same alerts as the digital signage.
“Student safety is a paramount concern,” said President Matthew Holland. “The realities are that we are vulnerable, like every other educational institution … but I hope that what we’re doing will significantly minimize the chances of it happening.”