Shooter drills, alert system aim to protect

In a continued response to April's Virginia Tech tragedy, Geneseo has instituted new safety measures for dealing with potential crisis situations, including "live shooter" drills and a new campus-wide emergency alert system.

Over the summer, University Police forces participated in active-shooter training drills over a two-day period. During the program, officers trained in areas such as weapon retention and the four-person diamond formation response tactic.

Scott Kenney, assistant chief of University Police, described the program as "very reality-based" and noted that it was "very good for our department to go through that training."

The training was held in Suffolk Hall. Some of the exercises included responding to a shooter on the roof, as well as a "large-scale scenario" in which all of the individual police units acted as one.

The "shooters" in the training exercises used rounds made of soap known as "sim-unition" so officers could respond to actual projectiles. The last time UP trained in this manner was after the Columbine High shooting in 1999. In that session, shooter drills were held in the Holcomb Building.

Kenney explained that before Columbine, standard police response to a situation in which lives were being threatened was to first secure the scene and then wait for specialized teams. Since Columbine, however, police units have been trained to handle such situations more aggressively. Kenney said UP's No. 1 goal is to "minimize casualties."

In addition to the drills, Kenney said UP continually sends officers to schools for additional training and invites external groups such as the Rochester Police Department and SWAT team leaders to Geneseo for training purposes.

If serious emergencies such as threats to life, bomb threats, or hostage and weapons situations are reported to University Police, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Dr. Robert Bonfiglio will be contacted by the UP officer responsible for continually communicating the status of the situation. From there, campus communications, class cancellations and other appropriate responses will be implemented at the College cabinet level.

Many criticized Virginia Tech's administration and police department after it was revealed that students had received only an e-mail notification almost two hours after the initial shootings. In response to this issue, Geneseo recently signed onto NY-Alert, an emergency Web-based portal offered by New York State to government agencies and universities. The system allows Geneseo's administration to effectively communicate a potential safety threat to students via e-mail, phone and text messaging.

In an e-mail sent Sept. 18, President Christopher Dahl informed students of the voluntary but "highly encouraged" subscription service. Upon logging into Knightweb, students are required to take a survey that offers them the opportunity to sign up for the service.

Some students are not yet aware of the program. Freshman Dana Smith has not read the e-mail, but said she "can see how important such services would be after Virginia Tech."

Not all students trust the service. "I think it's good that they're doing something, but I question whether it will actually work or not," said sophomore Mary Hanrahan.

As of Sept. 24, 1,519 students had registered for the program, approximately 600 had delayed their registration and approximately 200 declined the service.

Director of Computing & Information Technology Sue Chichester said that for the past two years, New York's State Emergency Management Office has been working to develop an emergency notification system for all citizens of New York. After Virginia Tech, many college campuses began looking closer at this prospect. Many SUNY campuses have worked with SEMO and have signed up with NY-Alert, which Chichester said is looking into OnStar and GPS systems for increased safety.

Chichester, who is part of a Disaster & Planning Coordinating Task Force at Geneseo, emphasized that "if you're really trying to get a message out to everyone, you need to have multiple avenues." In addition to NY-Alert, Geneseo hopes to reach students through campus wide e-mails, the Geneseo Web site and an emergency portal in myGeneseo.

Although less than half of the student body has currently taken the survey, Chichester believes this number will pick up when class registration begins, as students will have to take it to enter Knightweb. She also stated that, in all likelihood, the most frequent use of the system will be to communicate class cancellations due to snow emergencies.

A test of the system is planned for later this semester.