ACPD Reaffirms Commitment to Safety After Parkland
Issue   |   Tue, 02/27/2018 - 19:09
A red brick building stands in the center, foregrounded by a green lawn and leafless tree on the left side of the image. The sky behind the red brick building is light blue. Shadows of trees cast over the side exterior of the red brick building.
In light of another school shooting in Florida on Feb. 14, the Amherst College Police Department distributed handbooks on emergency response and emphasized the importance of preparedness in interviews
Photo courtesy of Alura Chung-Mehdi ’19

After a gunman opened fire on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, leaving 17 people dead and several others injured, the massacre in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history has sparked conversation about ensuring safety at educational institutions.

In an email interview, President Biddy Martin highlighted the importance of safety on campus.

“There is nothing more important to us than the health and safety of students,” she said. “It is very important that our community members take time now, before an emergency happens, to find out about the resources we have available, and how the experts recommend responding to different types of emergencies.”

Following the shooting in Parkland, the Amherst College Police Department (ACPD) sent an email to students regarding campus-wide emergency preparedness. The email also included information about individual preparedness in the case of active-shooter scenarios, medical emergencies and other urgent situations.

ACPD Chief of Public Safety John Carter encouraged community members to sign up for AC Alert. Through AC Alert, the college can send notifications to personal communication devices and broadcast a banner on all college computers notifying the community if there is an ongoing emergency. “The best way you can protect yourself is to know that something’s going on, so that you even know to take shelter somewhere, or to avoid a certain area,” he said.

He also stressed the “Run, Hide and Fight” method. “If you’re in the area where there’s an active shooter and you can run away, that is absolutely the first thing that you want to do, is to get yourself out of danger,” Carter said. “If you’re in a position where you can’t run away, or running away would put you in more danger, then we want you to hide, and we want to hide behind closed, locked doors.”

“If you can’t run or you can’t hide, you might have to fight for your safety,” he added. “And that’s something you should consider, it’s something that should be in your mindset.”

The college is prepared for an active-shooter scenario according to Carter. The residence halls have always been locked 24 hours a day, but in the last year, the college has taken steps to place electronic access control on every administrative building on campus as well.

With so many residence halls, administrative buildings and academic buildings on campus, Carter said that expecting people to lock all the doors during an active shooter scenario is “unreasonable.”

Instead, a “police officer with special permissions” would be able to “lock all the exterior doors at once” from any point on campus via a program called Dashboard. It is on the dispatch’s computer so that they “can send out an alert in under a minute” so that students are informed about any emergency situation.

According to Carter, all the police officers at Amherst College are sworn in by the state and carry appointments as deputy sheriffs. They are armed and carry equipment in police cruisers that can assist in responses to an active shooter.
While ACPD officers are “just a couple of minutes away from anywhere on campus” and will be the first ones to arrive on the scene, local authorities also provide support, Carter said.

The ACPD trains with both the Amherst Police Department and Massachusetts State Police in responding to active shooters. Officers also train with the Town of Amherst Fire Department on how to respond to “mass casualty incidents.”

“We’ve worked together, we’ve planned, we’ve trained together, so we’re well positioned,” Carter said. “It won’t be the first time we’re working together or thinking through one of these scenarios.”

ACPD also worked in coordination with the Office of Communications, the Office of Environmental Health and Safety and the Office of Student Affairs to distribute an Emergency Response Handbook throughout campus residence halls on Feb. 15.
Carter said that the handbooks, which include detailed information on preparedness such as the “Run, Hide and Fight” method, serve as a mode of education and awareness accessible to the student population.

“We wanted to make sure that everybody had something in their hands that was quick and easy to read and that gave just really great concise advice about what to do to keep yourself safe in an emergency,” he said.

While the handbooks were distributed the day following the shooting in Parkland, Carter notes that developing an emergency preparedness guide has been in the works for some time.

“We had a version of the pamphlet we gave out, but it was not substantial,” he said. “It was just a tri-fold paper, and we didn’t feel that people really held on to it. So we’ve been working on this for a while — we felt that it was substantial and people would hold on to it.”

Alongside the emergency preparedness handbooks, ACPD worked on producing a video detailing what procedures students should follow in an active-shooter scenario. The video, which was first released in 2015, was re-distributed in the wake of the Parkland massacre.

“One thing that we learned was that not everyone in the community knew what they should do in [the case of] an active shooter,” Carter said.

Around the time ACPD began thinking about creating a video about active-shooter scenarios, the FBI released a video titled “The Coming Storm,” meant to teach first responders and law enforcement officials about how to deal with an active shooter situation. ACPD found the video unsuitable for the Amherst community, and decided to work with other campus partners to create its own active shooter preparedness video, which is now available on the ACPD website.

“It’s a little more Amherst-appropriate, it has some very specific information about Amherst College in it,” Carter said. “Again, it’s short, it’s concise and we hope that people would watch it.”

It is imperative, Carter added, for people to report relevant information about possible shooters. “One of the things that I strongly believe is that when these situations develop, that somebody knows about it, other than the person who’s thinking of coming on campus and shooting,” he said.

“Someone always seems to know, or there was always a social media posting that someone saw,” he said. “When people see this, we just don’t want them to ignore it.”

Students have the option of providing an anonymous tip to the police department or to the Office of Student Affairs through reporting portals. Students can also speak with a counselor at the Counseling Center.

Once students provide a tip, a threat assessment team comprised of staff members from different offices will determine the severity of the situation and respond accordingly. “If people bring things to us, we can … get ahead of this and prevent something,” Carter stated.

The college is continuing to work on providing measures to ensure campus safety. Recent improvements to emergency preparedness include a campus-wide loudspeaker system and plans to implement safety training courses during first-year orientation, Martin said.

Martin emphasized the importance of community action on emergency preparedness.

“Students, staff and faculty can help by reviewing materials about how best to respond in emergencies, taking part in trainings when they are offered, communicating openly with one another and with relevant staff and administrators, promoting a greater sense of community and watching out for one another,” she wrote.

According to Director of Residential Life Andrea Cadyma, Residential Life partners with college subject matter experts “regarding what life safety, health, or physical plant challenges might emerge. As our senior leadership, Chief Carter and his colleagues assemble this expertise and develop the College’s capacity in these areas,” she said.