College officials reflect on state of active shooter preparedness
The Department of Safety and Security has coordinated with the Hanover Police department to conduct trainings, test emergency response systems and ensure student safety.
In response to the Feb. 13 shooting at Michigan State University — which claimed three victims’ lives and injured five others — The Dartmouth connected with Safety and Security and the Hanover Police department to learn more about the College’s preparation for active shooter incidents.
Since a 2018 off-campus shooting incident — which resulted in the injury of a non-Dartmouth student and a multi-hour lockdown — Safety and Security director Keysi Montás said that Safety and Security has been working to stay aware of the latest best practices in emergency response. Currently, Montás said the College does not offer mandatory active shooter training or required lockdown drills.
Campus emergency response manager Ron Swartz said that employees and students in the MSU shooting “helped save themselves” based on trainings that MSU and other universities have been “giving for years.” Swartz said that the concepts of self-protection are the same in any active shooter situation: get out of harm’s way until police can arrive to take the offender into custody.
Swartz said that part of the “fear and confusion” in the MSU shooting involved the spread of false information online, which traveled faster than the university could spread accurate information to the campus population.
“The hard part is for the College to get out accurate information in the first moments,” Swartz said.
For notification systems at the College, Montás said the College has a campus-wide emergency siren, which signals that there is an emergency on campus and is meant to prompt students and community members to seek out more information on their phones and computers. The College tests its campus-wide emergency sirens each year, according to Montás and Swartz.
The College has “pre-scripted messaging ready to go” in DartAlert — the College’s emergency notification system — that would go to students’ phones, Swartz said.
Dartmouth Student Government member Nicolás Macri ’24 said that he does not think students “really know” how to respond to mass shooting events and sees “spreading awareness” as a central role for DSG. According to Macri, DSG has not discussed Dartmouth’s preparedness for a school shooting with College administrators. However, he noted that this term, the College created a spot on its Emergency Planning Group for a DSG member.
“The Emergency Planning Group is not just about mass shootings, but any kind of emergency situation that the College would need to respond to,” Macri said.
Hanover Police captain James Martin said that Hanover Police works with Safety and Security to provide some “general safety” training during new student orientation. Montás wrote in a follow-up email that this training involves a safety video covering how to report incidents and how to stay safe at Dartmouth.
Swartz said that though conversations about “scary situations” like active shooters can cause fear among students, it is important to get people thinking about emergency response scenarios.
“We try to come at it from a proactive position,” Swartz said. “It is happening in the news regularly and we want you to be thinking about this.”
According to the College website and Swartz, Safety and Security is currently providing emergency response trainings — which includes active shooter response — to any community member “on request.”
Swartz said that the current optional trainings are based on the “avoid, deny, defend” model — an active threat response strategy developed at Texas State University in 2002 — and Safety and Security will cater training based on the specific workspace.
“In a lot of situations like a library, people are out in the open,” Swartz said. “For them to go to a place and hide is more of a challenge, so we have to think of each individual classroom or space as a refuge spot. [It] comes down to using the space you are already in to close the door and barricade. The first option, of course, is to run, and know where the nearest exits are.”
Montás added that at Dartmouth, all buildings have different doors and hardware, including classrooms with and without accessible locks. This infrastructure makes it “almost impossible” for professors and classroom occupants to be trained about how to lock a classroom in an emergency, he said.
Swartz said that the only way for a professor to safely secure a room or office is to barricade it from the inside, using tables and chairs up against the door to prevent an intruder from entering.
“Even if you lock a door with the flip of a switch, the intruder could be an employee with a key,” Swartz said. “We don’t always assume that the person does not have a key,”
Montás said that Safety and Security does not consider a campus-wide lockdown drill to be an effective measure.
“It is logistically almost impossible to do a drill that involves the entire community,” Montás said. “We are most effective as we go in small groups.”
Montás said that he believes if students are not requesting training on their own, they will not participate when the College mandates a lockdown drill. Montás added that, to his knowledge, there are no universities with mandated lockdown drills.
Swartz added that he believes most arriving students at Dartmouth would have high school experience with active shooter drills. After previously working at the University of Alaska, Swartz said that there were no standardized lockdown drills throughout the university’s 16 campuses.
In an active shooter situation, Montás said that Safety and Security would rely on law enforcement for a primary response and to neutralize any threat. In the meantime, Montás said that Safety and Security officers would work to secure the area and assist those exiting.
“We will cordon off the area best we can, have law enforcement who are trained in tactical response to come in and neutralize the threat,” Montás said.
Martin said that Hanover police’s main priority is to “neutralize the threat” in an active shooter situation. If that is not possible, Martin said police strategy involves containment of the threat and encouraging safe evacuation of victims.
Martin said that on campus, Hanover police trains with Safety and Security, and new officers spend a shift working with Safety and Security to become “oriented” with Dartmouth’s campus.
According to Montás, the College has mutual agreements with neighboring law enforcement agencies from Lyme, Lebanon, Enfield and statewide response teams to respond in an active shooter situation. He said that Hanover can get a “good core” of law enforcement response on campus within minutes despite its rural location, including additional support from large departments in Vermont.
Martin said he believes that Hanover police has become better equipped to deal with active shooter threats since 2018. Over the past year, he said that the department has updated tactical and medical equipment for emergency responses, including providing a CPR AED update and tactical medical training to officers, including the use of tourniquets and different methods of “tactical medical care.”
Montás said that there is always room for improvement. Both Montás and Swartz said that the College is working to update “access control systems” for various buildings to improve the College’s ability to lock doors from the outside in an emergency.
Martin said that the department is on high alert for the possibility of emergency incidents and that preparation for shooting events is of the “highest priority” for the department.
“We are focused on providing a safe, secure environment for our students,” Martin said. “So, we do training with our public schools in town as well — the elementary school, the high school and of course Dartmouth.”