Standing guard: USC prepares for crisis

first_imgSarah Kim | Daily TrojanIn the past 50 years, universities and schools have become a site for shootings. From tragedies like the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre to the fatal officer shooting at Texas Tech University  on Oct. 9, the possibility of violence hangs in the air at American universities. Preparedness during crises is emphasized among law enforcement and public safety officials, and at USC, this is no exception. When false reports of an active shooter at Fertitta Hall came in on Monday, Oct. 2, USC’s preparation was put to the test. The University’s response reaffirmed these preparation methods, said Steve Goldfarb, fire safety emergency planning specialist. Departments like Goldfarb’s, along with the Office of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention team, work to ensure the campus and its students, faculty and staff are prepared for any type of crisis. While the event at Fertitta Hall disrupted the campus, USC’s reaction pointed out both strengths and flaws in the systems Goldfarb and others spent months developing.“One of the things that we should all feel really good about in this case is that within three minutes of getting the call that there was an active shooter, Los Angeles Police Department and Special Weapons and Tactics were in the building,” Goldfarb said. While addressing the issue is a priority, communication remains important. TrojansAlert is a system that sends out updates from DPS during a crisis via text message and email. During an emergency, TrojanAlerts will be DPS’ primary point of communication with the community, said DPS Assistant Chief of Public Safety David Carlisle. “Every student, every faculty member should be enrolled, but we know that may not be the case, people change their phone numbers, things happen,” Carlisle said. “That’s when we would expect people to exchange information in the classroom. So that’s the primary way of getting the message out.”As the incident unfolded, students received five different text messages from TrojansAlert, starting with an initial report to avoid the area and shelter, and ending with the final alert that Fertitta Hall had reopened.A TrojansAlert text was sent at 12:29 p.m., informing students that the police were searching the hall after unconfirmed reports of shots fired. The next text was sent at 1:04 p.m., this time stating there was no evidence of gunfire and that campus activities could resume. In the 35 minutes TrojansAlert was silent, students were not. Katlyn Lee | Daily TrojanThe University recognized that this silence was becoming problematic as rumors spread, said Vice Provost for Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention Varun Soni. “I will say that in this particular case there was a lot of misinformation online, a lot of false reporting that exacerbated the anxiety on campus,” Soni said. “So, it’s really important that TrojansAlert becomes the legitimate source of information that’s verified.” Carlisle noted that DPS’ primary function is to keep the University campus safe.  In a developing situation, this may not always correlate to the instant communication that students desire. “We are doing our best to verify the information, with the most accurate information, as quickly as practical in an emergency situation,” Carlisle said. “And sometimes that takes a little time to verify what we’re hearing.” Another issue presented with TrojansAlert lies in its platform — primarily, cell phones. In classes where use of electronic devices is prohibited, students or faculty may not be able to see a TrojansAlert, potentially delaying or preventing them from quickly responding to an emergency. According to Carlisle, these considerations are currently being discussed. Possible improvements include emergency message board systems or loudspeakers to ensure the message is received on multiple platforms.However, even before the events at Fertitta, USC had placed significance on emergency preparedness. Soni leads the University’s crisis intervention office, which was developed in the 2017-18 school year. The office has three goals: create a culture of wellbeing to prevent threats by developing, help those facing personal crises and develop a system to assess crises. This includes hiring the University’s first-ever Chief of Threat Assessment, Patrick Prince. “We want to do a better job making sure our entire community feels prepared in an active shooter scenario,” Soni said. “These are always traumatic instances and that makes it more important to empower people to make sure they feel like they know what to do in the certain cases.” Goldfarb encourages USC students, faculty and staff to visit USC’s safety website. He recommends all watch a new nine-minute emergency procedures video. While watching the video is not a widespread requirement, Goldfarb expects it to become a part of new student orientation, hopefully beginning in Spring 2018. Whether it’s an earthquake or an active shooter incident, Goldfarb encourages all to take initiative before the crisis occurs, like knowing multiple exit routes from their classes and residential hall. “It’s [about] taking personal responsibility to make sure you understand the emergency procedures,” Goldfarb said. Goldfarb, Soni and Carlisle know that any incident, even a false alarm, can be traumatic. However, instead of creating fear, they hope the incident at Fertitta Hall provides the USC community with motivation to prepare. “We want all students, faculty and staff to make sure they take our emergency preparedness, not just our active shooter training, but all of our preparedness very seriously,” Carlisle said. “It could happen here.”last_img