By VICTORIA PERCHERKE
On Nov. 18, a faculty member received a gun threat via voicemail, which led the University to operate on a shelter-in-place warning.
I was unaware of the situation at hand until my friend insisted I go to my apartment. She had received an email warning. I asked myself, “Why did I not receive an email regarding the shelter-in-place when my peers did?” It wasn’t until 20 minutes later that I received the warning. Months have followed since the incident and still, there are concerns about what the University’s security plan is for an active shooter.
Sam Price, a communication and digital studies major, said that for the most part, she feels safe on campus. “I felt like the University could’ve communicated better than they did. I was mostly upset that they didn’t notify parents,” Price said.
Since the incident, the faculty of Combs Hall has agreed on a new pilot plan for the building. However, this will not suffice. The University of Mary Washington needs to provide pilot plans for every building before they come up with an official University plan. A pilot plan, or pilot project, is an initial action implemented to test out or improve an idea before it is set in stone.
Having most of my classes in Combs Hall, all of my professors had informed my peers and me about the new pilot plan: to keep the classroom doors locked while class is in session. However, when I went to my class in Jepson, I was not informed by my professor about the nearby exits and how the door would be locked. The campus-wide lack of continuity on important policies is concerning… especially when it comes to student safety.
When asked why the same precautions were not taken campus-wide, English department chair Gary Richards provided responded that the faculty of Combs took it upon themselves to find a temporary safety solution. “The provost, Nina Mikhalevsky, invited all the faculty and staff in Combs with Dean Rucker and Chief Hall to talk about what had happened [in November],” said Richards.
All professors who are housed in the departments in Combs were sent an email inviting them to participate in this trial experiment. Richards stated that “some professors might not want to participate in this. It was the committee of the chairs of the departments in Combs and the office managers who agreed to take this procedure on.” The meeting consisted of creating a list of suggestions and guidelines that the English Department thought would help.
“We tried to make it clear that this was a pilot program,” said Richards. “We know that this isn’t perfect, but we felt that we needed to do something in a small way, and in a quick manner. The idea is if a door [is] already locked, that all one would have to do is whether it is shut, or propped open, that you would just have to kick the prop out. Any kind of barrier, even if the lock could be shot and opened, that’s enough of a barrier to keep the shooter moving.”
By April, the Combs faculty and staff will assess the performance of the pilot. If there is a positive response, soon there would be a door prop provided for every classroom on campus. Each building will be responsible for their own pilot plan due to the differences in architecture. With rare exceptions, Combs has locked doors with no windows that face the hallways.
Chief of Police Michael Hall said, “Community and student safety is top priority. We want to make sure everyone’s kids get back home safely.” Hall also included that the delay of emails sent out to the students was corrected. “It is clear that the University needs extra training.” Hall confirmed that there are meetings being scheduled in the month of February to discuss one-on-one training with each of the professors.
Political science major Lauren Westerdorf suggested that a campus-wide announcement system like the severe weather siren could alert everyone, even in the surrounding area, of an emergency immediately. She also inquired whether it would be possible for warnings to be communicated via speakers on the blue light system.
Hall encouraged everybody on campus to download the Guardian App. Hitting any of the emergency buttons on the app immediately sets an alarm off at Brent Hall. “I don’t take it lightly that kids in the past haven’t made it home to their parents due to a school shooting. So, if we have to spend a bunch of money to ensure safety, then we will.”