Monday, University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel sent an email to all members of the campus community regarding unfounded reports of an active shooter on campus March 16. In the email, Schlissel discussed the community response to the reports and the University of Michigan’s emergency alert system.
Though the University found no active threat, the reports inspired real fear in many campus community members. The reports, which turned out to be the result of balloons being popped in Mason Hall, surfaced during a vigil on the Diag for the victims of the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shootings March 15.
“Members of our community experienced vulnerability and distress in the moments during the incident and long afterward,” Schlissel wrote. “It is heartbreaking that we live in a world where violence and the possibility of violence too often leaves individuals and groups of different backgrounds feeling targeted.”
On Sunday, alpha Kappa Delta Phi, the sorority responsible for the balloon popping that prompted active shooter protocol on campus, issued an apology published by The Daily’s Opinion section.
“We are truly sorry to everyone who feared for their lives and had to experience the traumatic events of that day, especially to our fellow Muslim students and all those who were present at the New Zealand Mosques Solidarity Vigil,” the apology letter reads. “It is unacceptable to merely pass off our actions as a poorly timed coincidence.”
Despite the misunderstanding, Schlissel emphasized the University’s prompt response, thanking the University’s Division of Public Safety and Security and external law enforcement for ensuring safety and offering support.
“I have heard nothing but praise for how our students and other community members acted during those initial chaotic moments,” Schlissel wrote. “Our Division of Public Safety and Security (DPSS) reported that attendees followed instructions, helped each other and followed guidelines from training – all in the interest of safety.”
Additionally, Schlissel said he appreciated everyone who helped the University reflect, heal and learn in the days since the emergency alert and response. He said he and E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, met with several groups of students last week to hear about their experiences and concerns regarding the events March 16 and to get their advice on how to be better prepared.
“Part of the purpose of these events and our own work involves continuing to analyze U-M’s emergency response,” Schlissel wrote. “We must always strive to be better, safer and more supportive in every way possible, and the feedback we have heard from many of you is a critical component of what we have learned from the incident. There is no doubt we must do more to keep our campus safe, and I assure you we are working on changes that we can implement now and going forward.”
Schlissel said the University is examining all aspects of the emergency alert process and has begun an awareness campaign about what to do during an active attacker scenario. He asked campus community members to view DPSS digital training resources, which include safety tips and an active attacker training video.
To conclude the email, Schlissel encouraged campus community members to sign up to receive emergency alerts on their cell phones as well as download the University of Michigan app and U-M DPSS app. He said the only authoritative information during an emergency is communication coming from DPSS.
“The safety and well-being of people in our community is my foremost concern,” Schlissel wrote. “I commend everyone who has reached out to offer support to others or to provide suggestions on how we can improve our processes.”