String of Campus Shootings Across Country Prompts Area Colleges to Review Safety [VIDEO]
ST. CLOUD - After a string of college campus shootings shook the country earlier this month, local colleges are emphasizing being prepared for "active shooter" situations.
Central Minnesota campuses are stressing emergency preparedness and mental health services following the shooting deaths of nine students at a community college in southern Oregon.
St. Cloud State University, Saint John's University, The College of Saint Benedict and the St. Cloud Technical and Community College all have plans in place if there was an active shooter on their campuses. The schools are responsible for roughly 25,200 students combined.
Jesse Cashman is the assistant vice president for safety and risk management at SCSU, he says they train regularly with St. Cloud Police to prepare for emergency situations.
"We know that within two minutes, we're going to have an officer here reacting to whatever the situation is and going in to try and address the threat immediately."
Chris Loos is the director of safety and security at SCTCC, he says students may be evacuated or instructed to lock down, depending on what the situation was.
"If we know where the individual is, we can try to section that area off and get people out if it's safe. Another part of what we do is teach people how to shelter in place, lock down and hide. If you can get out safely, then I'm sure a lot of people would do so. The safest thing to do would be to trust your instincts."
Every campus has a similar strategy: call 911, alert students to find shelter and lock down, have public safety departments contain the situation where they can and wait for local law enforcement to arrive. Each campus has a public safety department, which would work to contain the situation.
Michael Hemmesch is the executive director of public relations for SJU and CSB, he says both campuses have emergency management teams and public safety groups that meet regularly to go through scenarios and responses.
"Saint John's has life safety services and the College of Saint Benedict has campus security. They work with local law enforcement and would be very much the first responders to a situation on campus."
After calling 911, campuses would go into lock-down while authorities respond. Cashman says their public safety department would go to contain the threat, but wouldn't be encouraged to engage a shooter directly. That would be left to police.
"We're fairly dependant on local law enforcement for their response. However, St. Cloud isn't that big of a town and we have three officers through our CAPS program that are dedicated to the campus and surrounding area, we think that gives us a big advantage."
In the age where every student has a cell phone, each campus also has a text message alert system. If there was an active shooter, students would be alerted right away through a text or email. Parents can also sign up for the alerts.
"We have a text message system on campus that we would utilize called "Star Alert" to notify the campus. The message is going to depend on where that active threat is," Cashman says.
Those in residence halls would be instructed to barricade their rooms with whatever material is available. If exiting a building is the students best chance for survival, they're urged to do so as quickly as possible and find cover someplace safe. If there's no option for escape and an immediate threat, as a last resort: students could grab something to protect themself with and use it to stop the intruder.
School officials also stressed the importance of having support groups and psychological services readily available for students, so those who need help can have easy access before a violent incident can happen. Every campus has support groups that keep an eye out for any student who appears to be struggling.
"There are a lot of ways where employees can understand and realize that a student might need some help, whether it be connecting them with academic support or through counsiling services," Hemmesch says.
Each campus also offers students counciling and academic support.
While every campus has a plan in place, they hope these services can prevent any incident before it starts.
"It's a lot of traning, a lot of communication and hopefully we don't ever have to utilize our tactics and expertise," Cashman says.