On Feb. 13, tragedy struck Michigan State University when a gunman killed three students and injured five others. This shooting, just like dozens of others in schools across America, highlighted the shortcomings of MSU’s emergency response plan — including that students were not notified of the threat for nearly 15 minutes, leading to rampant spreading of misinformation about the threat.
Unfortunately, recent reporting by The Dartmouth shows that our emergency response plan is flimsy at best in the face of threats to campus safety. For example, the College does not provide its students with comprehensive emergency training to prepare for active shootings. What training it does provide is only available “on request.” In fact, campus emergency response manager Ron Swartz said that he expects students to rely on active shooter training they received in high school. Such shortfalls in emergency preparedness systems must be addressed.
The College’s lack of emergency preparedness training is, politely, both embarrassing and frightening. While most students — at least those who went to school in the U.S. — may have experienced active shooter training in school, that training took place anywhere from one to four years ago. What’s more, many of the thousands of faculty and staff who attended grade school prior to the turn of the century and the 1999 Columbine High School shooting did not receive training on what to do in active shooter situations.
Dartmouth — a campus where some buildings have stood for over a century — has also not invested in the infrastructure needed to protect its community. For example, while some buildings and rooms such as dorms can only be accessed using ID card readers, not all spaces currently utilize the same technology. Once inside a building, not all rooms lock in the same way, if at all. Sure, doors can be barricaded in an emergency, as Safety and Security director Keysi Montás told The Dartmouth. However, without any training, how can students and faculty be expected to know this?
And we aren’t just concerned about a mass shooting hitting campus: Campus preparedness for other emergencies — like fires and natural disasters — is also sorely lacking. While the steps to take if the fire alarm goes off seem clear — get out — what to do when there is no easy way out seems to be on the back burner for preparedness efforts. As we saw when the recent polar vortex swept through town, much of the College’s infrastructure is not able to endure extreme weather events. When temperatures dropped below -30 degrees Fahrenheit this term, many students struggled to stay warm. From heaters that couldn’t heat rooms above 50 degrees to old windows that let the cold inside, the state of many buildings are ill-prepared for extreme weather.
Moreover, when there are emergencies such as assaults, fires or other threatening incidents on or around campus, the College oftentimes fails to provide students with all of the relevant details or are notified only after the threat has disappeared. For instance, when South Asian graduate students were verbally harassed and physically assaulted this past fall, students were not notified of the threat until a day after the incident. What’s more, hesitancy to release the racialized nature of the incident failed to inform students of color that they could have been at risk of a racist attack. These decisions prevented students from taking actions to protect themselves, such as avoiding the area or being on high alert for people matching the suspect’s description.
We recognize the anxiety that these events — the shooting at MSU, the racist attack in Hanover, the threat of some other emergency — may bring to members of the Dartmouth community. We do not write this with the intent to sow fear among the masses. Instead, we demand that the College prepare its students, faculty and staff for events that are unfortunate but real possibilities.
What does this look like? First and foremost, Dartmouth must communicate a plan of action on how to respond to campus threats with community members. We already have the channels with which to do this: Students could receive explicit training during New Student Orientation or in floor meetings with their undergraduate advisors, and faculty and staff can be assigned mandatory webinars similar to those they must already complete for their jobs. Dartmouth must also make a targeted effort to bring all of its buildings online with consistent, reliable infrastructure to tackle security, heating and other safety issues. Sure, this approach will take a great deal of money to pull off — but shouldn’t the College be willing to spend big to ensure student safety?
Altogether, it is imperative that the College invest more time and resources into strengthening its emergency response protocols and infrastructure. We cannot approach emergency response planning with a lackadaisical attitude — we must be proactive and thorough to ensure that we minimize the harm incurred in such situations. We urge the College to reflect on its current emergency response systems and address many of the current shortcomings. After all, especially during emergencies, it is much better to be safe than sorry.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.