Wednesday night, the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government and Division of Public Safety and Security collaborated to host a town hall regarding plans to improve emergency safety protocol following an active shooter scare on March 16. A small group of community members voiced concerns about accommodations for disabled students and possible improvements to the emergency alert system.
CSG President Daniel Greene, Public Policy senior, said he was glad the entire University community was given a place to express their opinions regarding the events.
“We were concerned that non-student leaders — so the majority of campus — didn’t have the opportunity or platform to voice their concerns and ask questions,” Greene said. “We wanted to make sure that although CSG already has the connections and was able to have this kind of dialogue that other community members were able to have the same opportunity to do so.”
Greene said he wanted to provide ample opportunity for all community members to engage in a dialogue about how DPSS will adjust moving forward.
“Although tonight’s attendance was a bit more intimate in style, I think it was still an opportunity for the students that did show up to be able to ask the questions that otherwise fall by the wayside,” Greene said.
DPSS Executive Director Eddie Washington fielded many of the students’ questions. He reiterated multiple times his gratitude for the feedback he has received from the campus community.
“You have expectations, high expectations,” Washington said. “We share the ‘leaders and the best’ philosophy, and we don’t believe we can be that if we’re not constantly looking at ways to improve.”
Washington reassured the group that DPSS is putting together an “after-action briefing,” a process which requires an internal and external review of the situation and how it was handled. Washington said the briefing requires different facets of DPSS to convene and agree, so the official document is not yet published but soon will be.
“That will be transparent, and that will be something that we make available,” Washington said. This briefing will address concerns brought up by students, staff, faculty and other community members who were affected by the active shooter scare: action taken by officers on the scene, use of the emergency alert system and areas where improvement is possible or necessary. Washington said his primary takeaway from the conversations he has had with students is that DPSS needs to be “doing more than what we’re doing today.”
Lieutenant Bryan Baker, DPSS liaison to Student Life in the prevention and community engagement department, reassured students those improvements will continue to come from within his department.
“You’ll see a lot more proactive communication through the remainder of the semester from prevention and community outreach within DPSS,” Baker said.
Baker has facilitated numerous events on behalf of DPSS since the scare occurred. Last week, he spoke at a CSG meeting, a Residence Hall Association meeting and a town hall with Rackham students. Baker has also contributed to an ongoing DPSS initiative to register students for the emergency alert system.
DPSS is exploring new avenues to improve their emergency communications after receiving extensive student complaints regarding the timeliness of alerts.
LSA senior Niccolo Beltramo raised the issue of the timing of alerts at the town hall.
“Specifically with regard to sort of the speed of communication from DPSS … obviously some delay is to be expected because you all had to check our the situation and validate, but 30 minutes seems like quite a long time in a potential active shooter situation,” Beltramo said.
Washington explained that during an emergency, when students take to their phones to contact friends and loved ones it clogs the servers and prevents text or email alerts from being received by the student body in a timely fashion. Washington said DPSS advises students to download their app because the push notifications are more expedient than traditional alert forms.
Another concern voiced at the town hall is the inability of some students with disabilities to comply with the run, hide and fight protocol the campus community was advised to adopt.
LSA senior Bradley Ebenhoeh wrote questions on this issue that were asked by his caregiver, Kinesiology sophomore Natalie Bullock.
“For people with disabilities such as myself, many of us cannot run, hide or fight,” Bullock said on Ebenhoeh’s behalf. “That was easily the most terrifying part about it. It felt like my own school did not care about my safety.”
Washington said DPSS has been in the process of remedying this issue by training “capable guardians” who would be able to provide assistance to all vulnerable communities in the event of emergency. This includes students with disabilities, as well as children and those hospitalized in Michigan medical facilities.
The capable guardians are currently undergoing training with Baker to learn a nuanced procedure to follow during an active shooter alert. Instead of running, hiding and fighting, they are taught to instruct, evacuate, shelter and defend. All doctors, nurses and University staff are expected to be trained under this new program.
Greene said this town hall is a way to wrap up loose ends before solidifying a final, improved protocol.
“We have done multiple events on multiple fronts over the past few weeks, and this is our final event,” Greene said. “Tonight was the last chance out of a whole series of events that provided students with the same opportunity and the same information to better understand what happened but also to be able to provide criticisms and provide feedback about how we can even better react in the future.”
DPSS expressed they are taking student feedback into account.
“We have some work to do ahead of us,” Baker said.