First responders practice for campus crisis

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A 911 call comes in. There was a loud noise in a dorm at Troy University and the caller can see a woman lying on the ground in the hallway. Soon the situation escalates and there is an active shooter on campus. Later he barricades himself in a room with hostages.

It’s a situation that has never happened locally, but Troy University officials and first responders aren’t waiting for an event to decide what they should do if there were ever a crisis on campus.

The above scenario was discussed at a table-top drill Wednesday morning involving University Police, school officials, the Troy Police Department and the Pike County Emergency Management Agency.

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“What we learned from Columbine is that you can’t set up a perimeter around a school and wait for a SWAT team,” said University Police Chief John McCall. “We’ve got to go in and we’ve got to take the shooter out as quickly as possible.”

“All of our resources will be coming to assist,” said Troy Police Chief Jimmy Ennis.

Those present discussed which agencies and people would do what jobs, from responding to the scene of a crisis, to handling and influx of calls and media that would converge upon the campus, to notifying students and parents of a danger at the university.

The planners discussed a meeting they had with representatives from Virginia Tech who spoke with them about the importance of a good flow of communication. Virginia Tech was blasted in the media after a campus shooting because the school didn’t notify students of the incident.

The group agreed that the university’s SOS emergency information system would be the most efficient way to notify students of a threat. The system can send four different types of messages. Text messages can contain up to 160 characters and are sent within 60 seconds of composition, e-mail messages go out immediately, telephone recordings can take about five minutes to receive and the school is also able to post information to each display screen around campus connected to the university feed.

McCall said that students are not required to sign up for the SOS service, so there is no guarantee everyone on campus would receive a message.

Organizers also discussed areas to stage call centers, news conferences and parent updates.

“We are going to bring in everybody we can to help us secure the situation,” McCall said. “SWAT, snipers, hostage negotiators…”