From the Daily: The University’s emergency response system needs improvement

Wednesday, March 20, 2019 - 2:30pm

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This past Saturday, there was a false alarm during which University of Michigan students were alerted about an active shooter situation in Mason Hall, leaving them confused, fearful and traumatized. This occurred at the same time as a vigil on the Diag for the victims of the recent attacks on two New Zealand mosques, where more than 50 people were killed. The Michigan Daily Editorial Board would like to specifically express our support for the Muslim community during this time, many of whom were disproportionately affected by this scare, and offer a statement of solidarity with the community.

Our University was deeply affected by the traumatizing event of having a believed shooter on campus. While this was thankfully proven to be a false alarm, the stress, fear and harm inflicted on students remains tangibly real and potent. One of the fundamental reasons that this stress has been so pervasive lies with the University’s inadequate response to the alarm – particularly in its unclear and sporadic communication with students before and after the incident. This past weekend’s events were an alarming wake up call. We as an Editorial Board urge the University to take this opportunity to implement concrete change to their active shooter preparedness and procedure, in collaboration with student organizations to create the most effective protocol possible.

After an emergency, students look toward the University for leadership and guidance on how to effectively move forward. We implore the University to create a space for open dialogue for students to directly express their concerns about the current active shooter protocol as well as suggest amendments to the way the University handles emergency situations. This could be a town hall, among other options. This will give the University the opportunity to hear from and acknowledge how different communities — specifically underrepresented communities like the Muslim community and people with disabilities — are affected, and allow these different experiences to inform the resulting policy.

One of the most glaring issues to come from the incident was the University’s alert system. The system failed to notify all students of the alarm, either at all or in a timely manner, which is unacceptable considering that the immediate safety of the entire community was at risk. Students reported receiving information from their parents before getting any notification from the University or social media. The University’s first alert regarding the unconfirmed reports of an active shooter went out at 5:06 p.m., though many had been receiving texts and calls from fellow students and loved ones for about 30 minutes beforehand. When the alert finally came, not all students received it through practical and immediate channels such as text message or push notification. The University should not only work to deliver these messages in a more timely fashion, but also make it mandatory for students to opt into the emergency text system, which is currently optional and accessible for students to sign up to through Wolverine Access.

It is also important for the University to reevaluate the type of information they are disseminating in these alerts, and focus on providing accurate, detailed and clear information. One of the first messages from the University simply said “run, hide, fight” — the University’s current active shooter protocol sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security. While this protocol may be useful, in an emergency situation it does not adequately provide students with useful direction. Furthermore, it fails to account for specifics of the situation.

Additionally, the “run, hide, fight” protocol is something that needs to be addressed and retaught beyond the video shown at orientation. Many students, faculty and staff are unaware of what exactly this protocol entails, which is problematic due to its importance. Potential solutions to this problem could be creating a simulation to be shown at more regular intervals, either during syllabus week or through mandatory seminars in the mold of “Relationship Remix and Change it Up. Expanded-upon instruction about “run, hide, fight” could include situations that are personalized to our specific institution, perhaps including building-by-building protocols — especially those that are frequently attended by students and therefore more vulnerable to potential emergency situations. This information could also be featured on course syllabi in a similar way that the sexual assault and CAPS policies are described, giving students specific information based on the building and room.

It is crucial that the University discuss which of their channels of information is most reliable so that students and the community at large are able to turn to a credible source immediately. If such a channel is not yet established then it is the University’s duty to create a clear source for reliable updates. We also encourage the University to collaborate with The Michigan Daily as a trusted campus news organization and resource, as we can serve as a direct pipeline of reliable and immediate information. We acknowledge the mistakes we made on Saturday, and to prevent anymore the University should work with us to provide accurate updates in the event of an emergency.

Due to the lack of clear communication via emergency alerts, vague vocabulary and instructions and no single, clear source for updates, students turned to police scanners and first-hand accounts about what was happening. This aided in the spread of confusion and panic. We are incredibly fortunate that the alert on Saturday was a false alarm, but this event must be viewed as a learning opportunity for the University to improve its emergency protocols. It is imperative that students, faculty and staff have a clearer understanding of what to do and where to receive information in these types of situations. Saturday proved there is an urgent need to improve University policy and protocol, as these procedures are essential to our campus safety.