The questions on people's minds since Virginia Tech's ordeal
ATHENS, Ohio (April 20, 2007) -- A crisis in one place has a way of stimulating crisis thinking everywhere. The incident this week at Virginia Tech is certainly proof. Across the nation, parents, students and community members are asking, "Could this happen at our university?" and "How prepared are we?"
No community -- whether a college campus or town -- can be in a protective bubble. "Dangerous people find their way into the safest of environments. Ohio University has a sound safety record, but we are not immune to emergencies that threaten safety," says Ohio University Chief of Police Michael Martinsen. "So we continue to hone protocols and train for all types of incidents."
A dozen do's
Basic, practical personal safety tips to keep in mind
Although Athens and the Ohio University campus have a strong safety record, bad people can be found anywhere. The Ohio University Police Department offers the following suggestions for enhancing your personal safety on campus. Use them to heighten your awareness.
- Lock your residence hall door. Even trips to the shower or a friend's room warrant this important precaution.
- Do not open doors to strangers or prop open main doors of residence halls as a favor for a friend who has forgotten or doesn't have a key.
- Report suspicious people to police. It is better to err on the side of caution than to think perhaps you should call police and then regret not doing so.
- Familiarize yourself with campus crime alerts. These are noted on flyers posted around campus and on the OUPD Web site, www.ohio.edu/police.
- Don't walk alone after dark. Instead, walk in groups or with a friend, and stay in well-lighted, populated areas. Or consider using the SAFE-T Patrol (740-593-4040), a free service offering students, staff and visitors a walking escort to campus locations or those in close proximity.
- Be alert to your surroundings and the people around you. Don't trust anyone you don't know well. Walk confidently and at a steady pace. Stay close to the curb and avoid doorways, bushes and alleys.
- If you believe you are in danger, or believe someone is harming themselves or others, don't hesitate to use one of the free-standing blue-light emergency phones on campus. Each residence hall also contains a phone box with an emergency button that alerts OUPD.
- Realize that talking on a cell phone doesn't ensure your safety. In fact, someone who could do you harm may consider you an easier target because you're distracted.
- If you feel you are in danger, attract attention by yelling loudly and forcefully. Don't feel you are limited to acceptable ways of calling attention to yourself. For instance, yell "fire" or break a window. Assailants often are deterred by assertive actions by potential victims.
- If someone is not committing a crime but you believe that person's behavior could be harmful, talk it over with a campus counselor.
- Attend a CALL program in your residence hall or as a member of your social or fraternal organization. These OUPD programs provide safety and awareness information and can be scheduled by calling the OUPD.
- Use common sense and avoid putting yourself at risk. It is safer to be too careful than not careful enough.
Emergencies come in many forms and we have no way of knowing what shape one will take. But that doesn't mean a campus cannot be prepared. Here are answers to questions many people have asked Ohio University throughout Virginia Tech's ordeal:
Are we prepared for such an incident on our campus?
Our campus police officers are prepared to respond to an active shooter incident. Chief Martinsen was a tactical response team commander for seven years and brings his knowledge to our campus agency. He has been preparing vigorously since Columbine for incidents of this sort. Our police officers train and regularly carry out drills for critical incidents. The department has very specific protocols in place for reacting to the full range of critical incidents.
How would we notify people on campus?
We place high value on timely communications. The university has at its disposal multiple sources for disseminating emergency information. We would tailor the combination of communication tools to the specific incident and the amount of time we have to respond. That mix includes face-to-face, on- and off-campus cable networks, the Internet, a telephone alert system, emergency radios, phone trees, bullhorns, announcement systems and other methods.
What can individuals do in an incident in which someone is actively firing a weapon?
Though every situation is unique, generally you would want to follow five steps:
- Put distance between yourself and the threat
- Call 911
- Lock or barricade your area if you can
- Find cover and conceal yourself
- Stay down if law enforcement enters the building, but keep your hands visible
What else do we have in place?
Besides law enforcement and communication preparedness, Ohio University has a critical incident policy that defines its response protocol for a wide variety of emergency circumstances. This past year, the university established a Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT), with members from key campus units. The team meets every two weeks to identify opportunities for improvement and refine policies and procedures. All members of that team are taking part in incident management training.
What is a CIRT?
It is a team that plans for and mobilizes in an emergency. Its members manage the response to an incident with the objectives of protecting life and property. The team includes primary, backup and ad hoc members, providing the flexibility to deploy different members based on the incident.
Who are the primary team members?
- Michael Martinsen, chief of police, OUPD
- David Hopka, assistant vice president, Safety and Risk Management
- Joe Brennan, executive director, University Communications and Marketing
- Terry Hogan, dean of students
- Lawrence Gingerich, interim director, Environmental Health and Safety
- Jill Harris, coordinator, Emergency Programs
- Duane Starkey, director, Distributed IT Services
- John Kotowski, associate vice president, Facilities
Could we lock down Ohio University's campus?
Although this question has surfaced repeatedly in the wake of the Virginia Tech incident, the concept is misleading. The more relevant question is whether Ohio University can secure an appropriate area for a particular incident. The campus and area police forces are well trained in securing the perimeters of a crime area. Sometimes that will involve having people move to an area and lock doors. But depending on the circumstances, moving people away from an area is more appropriate. Each incident would dictate how tactical teams secure the incident site.
How do we secure our residence halls?
The university secures residence halls with strict and clear safety procedures, which both the university and residents are responsible to uphold.
First, living quarters in residence halls are locked at all times. (The only exception is Bromley, which is locked at night from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.). All individual residence hall rooms lock. Second, staff members are on duty within the building each night from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m and make rounds. Third, residents are educated and play a key role regarding residence hall safety. Police officers patrol campus 24 hours a day.
What measures can students take to keep their residence halls safe?
They can play a significant role in their safety and others' safety by: 1) never propping open stairwell or exterior doors, 2) not letting unknown people or students walk in behind them when they enter the stairwell or floor, and 3) being alert to strangers in the building and contacting staff or OUPD to report suspicious individuals or activities.
Have we done anything differently as a result of the Virginia Tech incidents?
We will certainly learn from this incident, as will all universities and law enforcement agencies across the country. We will tailor our preparedness accordingly. CIRT and OUPD will study the lessons learned and continue to refine the university's resources and protocols.
What counseling support is available for students?
Hudson Health Counseling and Psychological Services offers crisis counseling and a range of other counseling services in several formats: individual, group, workshops and outreach. Ohio University also has a unique counselor-in-residence program. Two counselors live in Jefferson Hall residence full time. During fall alone, they offered 57 information programs in addition to individual counseling sessions. On Tuesday evenings, the counselors-in-residence are in Baker University Center's Help Center (Room 419, 740-596-8888).
Is it possible to discuss with counselors concerns about another individual on campus whose behavior is causing concern?
Yes. Counseling Services will gather information and determine what, if any, intervention would be appropriate. If a person is clearly exhibiting behavior that is imminently dangerous to themselves or others, call campus police 740-593-1911 or 911.
- OUPD: 740-593-1911
- Athens Police Department: 740-593-6606
- Fire Emergency: 911 (TTY 911)
- Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services: 911
- Hudson Health Center: 740-593-1660 (after hours, call O'Bleness Memorial Hospital)
- Hudson Health Counseling and Pychological Services: 740-593-1616 (after hours call OUPD)
- O'Bleness Memorial Hospital Emergency: 740-593-5551
- Counselors in Residence: 740-593-0769 (Tuesday evenings in Baker Help Center, room 419, 740-596-8888)
- SAFE-T Patrol: 740-593-4040
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Media Contact: Senior Director of Media Relations Sally Linder, 740-597-1793 or email@example.com