In the days following the tragedy at Virginia Tech, the actions of school administrators and police have come under constant fire. Many in the media and those affected by the massacre have criticized both entities for the failure to lock down the campus after the first shooting, two hours prior to the shooting spree that led to the deaths of 31 others in a building on campus.
A number of Cal Poly officials spoke with the Mustang Daily Wednesday to shed light on the protocol and actions of campus officials should such an event occur.
Although there is no specific protocol listed for a lockdown on the Cal Poly’s campus safety preparedness Web site (www.afd.calpoly.edu/AFD/emergency/), in the event of an active shooter situation, numerous officials assured such protocol was in place.
The site has one link dedicated to a situation resembling an active shooter(s) on campus titled, “Stranger or Unauthorized Activity & Suspicious Objects.” The link instructs individuals on four points, but does not go further: Do not physically confront the person. Do not let anyone into a locked building/office. Do not block the person’s access to an exit. Call 911 from a campus telephone and provide as much information as possible about the person and their direction of travel.
Both University Police Department Chief Bill Watton and associate vice president of Administration Vicki Stover said that a campus-wide lockdown would be issued if it were deemed the safest course of action depending on the circumstances at hand.
The emergency Web site lists “restoration of academic program” as the third fundamental priority to emergency response, the first is “preservation of life.”
Stover and Watton agreed that campus normalcy will take a back seat if lives are in danger.
It should be noted that the procedure following other emergencies, such as natural disasters, have far less variables than an active shooter situation.
For example, if a shooting occurred on campus, university police would first determine if the shooter was on campus or had left campus.
“We would issue a (campus) lockdown unless we had detailed information that the shooter was elsewhere. In that case, we may lockdown the dorm or area in question,” Watton said.
Tactical decisions, such as engaging the shooter(s), are made by the university police or other law enforcement agencies which may be at hand.
In the event of a lockdown, Cal Poly President Warren Baker has the final decision to issue such an order, said Stover, whose office oversees the campus emergency Web site. If Baker was not available, the call would proceed down the administrative chain of command.
Baker issued an e-mail Wednesday which addressed the capabilities of Cal Poly in such an event, “We want to reassure you that we have a response plan for dealing with many different types of incidents, including one similar to that at Virginia Tech.”
In the e-mail Baker also sited the implementation of an incident command team but did not go into specifics, saying the team would “deal directly with any such event, calling in other law enforcement agencies for support if necessary.”
In the case of an extreme emergency, such as late at night, the decision of lockdown would be made by the highest ranking person available.
“Ultimately, it’s the president’s decision. We are going to take the best course of action we can to keep people safe; if we can’t find someone in charge, we won’t wait, we will act,” Watton said.
Stover said that means of communicating with students in an emergency included Big Voice, a speaker which can be heard from the Administration building, the Associated Student Inc. marquees, and the use of classrooms which have PA systems in them. She also mentioned e-mail, radio channels and police officers with bullhorns.
Although Cal Poly is a large campus, it is not as open or sprawling as Virginia Tech’s.
According to Watton, there are anywhere from two to four officers on campus at any given time. Despite that fact, only Grand Avenue, California Street and Highland Drive are used by vehicles to enter campus.
These streets could be blocked with relatively few officers, ensuring that those driving onto campus would be kept out of harm’s way.
For individuals living on campus, the order of lockdown would be relayed from the administration to resident advisers (RA) or coordinator of students (COS), according to Carole Schaffer, associate director of Residential Life and Education.
“(In a lockdown) what we would do is similar to an evacuation, except the complete opposite. We would utilize RAs or COS to spread the word to students,” Schaffer said.
Locking down campus housing facilities would be far easier than other buildings on campus, as they are locked 24 hours a day.
Schaffer said each resident is issued a handbook (details of which are also available at www.reslife.calpoly.edu/safety) which details procedures in the event of an emergency including evacuation procedures. However, according to Schaffer, there is nothing detailing a lockdown procedure.
“(Virginia Tech) is probably going to be a major topic of conversation on campuses across the country,” Schaffer said.
Chief Watton exercised caution at the notion of the events at Virginia Tech immediately affecting the emergency policies at Cal Poly but remained open to the possibility of change.
“I don’t want to second guess anyone (at Virginia Tech) at this point. We’ll wait and see what the facts are and make adjustments to our policies and procedure.”