School shootings and lockdowns: what if it happened here?

George Brown College has a detailed emergency management plan and evacuation procedures, but students say they have never heard about it.

Empty Hallway in a School building after shootings

An empty hallway in a school building

The spectre of school shootings is something that concerns all schools due to the amount of brutal shootings that take place south of the border every year. The random nature of these highly-publicized shootings has stoked public fear.

On Oct. 1, a gunman shot and killed nine people, injuring seven others, at Umpqua Community College in rural Oregon before he was engaged police in a shootout before taking his own life.

Such shootings have almost become commonplace in the United States for decades. As students in the Canadian post-secondary education system, we are no safer than the unsuspecting victims at Umpqua Community College with a clear increase in Toronto’s gun violence this year.

Based on numbers from the Toronto Police Service’s crime statistics, 2015 has been a violent year with 200 shootings in the city, a 25 per cent increase from last year. The number of victims has also increased, up 53 per cent.

A shooting at Dawson College in Montreal in 2006 left one woman dead, and another 19 people were injured in this chilling event. After being shot in the arm by a police officer, the shooter later committed suicide.

Recent examples of campus lockdowns in Canadian post-secondary institutions happened when Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo on Oct. 16. and at Cape Breton University (CBU) on Oct. 29, received online threats similar to those that had been posted prior to the Umpqua Community College shootings.

“Communication was very poor. I feel that the actual lockdown procedure itself was not handled properly,” said Brandon Ellis, CBU Student Union president, in an interview with the Caper Times. “We saw students and staff and faculty coming and going as they pleased during a potentially dangerous situation and I feel that we are not doing enough to improve on the mistakes we’ve made.”

Criticized on their response to the lockdown, it’s worth noting that while Cape Breton University—like George Brown—does have an emergency protocol in place, even the university’s vice president of finance and operations Gordon MacInnis says there’s more to be done.

“There has been some communication, but obviously not to the point where there was general knowledge throughout the institution, so that is one of the takeaways for us” said MacInnis in an interview with the Caper Times.

Chris Frazer, a second-year student in the financial accounting program at George Brown College (GBC) believes every student in college should have a basic understanding of what to do in any emergency. If not, security needs to make the school and students aware by sending an email or speaking with each class to give them a brief understanding of what to do if the situation arises.

So what is George Brown College doing to keep us safe?

Stacey Andrews, manager of public safety and security at GBC, explains that the school has various tools in order to help mitigate situations. One of these tools is a violence threat risk assessment tool that she and her staff are very well trained in

“This tool helps us cover any threats that need to be looked at,” said Andrews. “There are certain indicators that we do look at, and there is a large training component to this that shows where a situation may have to go or if one of our staff members would have to intervene or what type of interventions may need to take place in the event of a lock-down or emergency.”

The school also has an Emergency Evacuation Planning and Procedures document that outlines emergency tactics for staff and students in the event of an active threat on campus. This plan is part of a well thought-out emergency response structure for students and staff; here are a few of their procedures during a declared emergency:

  1. In the event that you witness a criminal act, you are to call security immediately and not become involved. If weapons are suspected, move to a safe location and report your location and any pertinent information relating to the criminal act to security.
  2. Put your devices on silent or vibrate, a ringing phone may direct the threat to your location.
  3. All classroom doors should be closed and if possible locked immediately and all students should find shelter and remain quiet until further notified by the appropriate college staff.
  4. All students and staff should remain in the rooms and stay clear of all windows and doors covering them if possible. The lights in the room should be turned off and you should lie flat on the floor.
  5. Do not tie up the phones in the classroom or use your cell phone which could overwhelm cellular systems and disrupt communications with emergency responders. It is of the utmost importance that all staff and students remain quiet in order to hear further instructions through the phones which double as a PA system.
  6. A member of the Emergency Response Team will contact the police immediately and stay on the line in order to supply the following information: A brief description of the incident, the college location and the entrance to be used.
  7. This open line will allow continuous communication with the police and ensure the most up-to-date information is being relayed.
  8. The police are in charge of the incident and a member of the Emergency Response Team will liaise with the police and provide them with a copy of the Emergency Management Plan.

With these guidelines, Andrews said that it is the chief responsibility of the Emergency Response Team to keep the college at a consistent awareness level in order to deal with any emergencies that may arise.

“The emergency response team are the ones who respond to the emergencies,” said Andrews. “Their training is on a continuous basis and for the most part you are looking at George Brown security doing that. So, if something is happening or you feel threatened about something that may happen, you contact security immediately. The phones that are on the walls in the classrooms are programmed so that when you press “0” it goes directly to security dispatch.”

Even though the college has pamphlets about what to do in a lockdown available in print at campus security desks and information on the GBC website, students at the college say they would like to be better informed and practice what to do in a lockdown drill.

Melissa Lima, a second-year student in the human resources program, believes that while the procedures in place are sufficient to protect students and staff, she would feel safer if the plans were implemented in an actual practice run.

“In the last two years that I have been at George Brown I was not aware that there was an emergency protocol in place,” said Lima. “There has never been any conversation from professors or e-mails from the college to make us aware that there is an emergency plan in place. I think professors should tell us the basic steps we should take if an incident should happen within the first week of classes. With these extra procedures, I would feel a lot more secure in the school.”

Gagan Deep, director of communications and internal at the Student Association (SA), which funds The Dialog, agrees with the notion that the best way to approach students about an emergency plan is through the classroom.

“That would be a really good, and possibly the best option to reach every student, because they all come here to attend class,” said Deep. “If teachers can take five to ten minutes, even a maximum of 15 minutes before their classes to go over the emergency plan it will be a really good way to make students aware of the procedures.”

Oleksandra Stamenova, a first-year human resources student also feels a simulation of the emergency plan during the school year would help students know what to do when a crisis happens. She does not believe every student knows what to do during an emergency.

“The plan does not tell us what to do if you are not in the classroom when an emergency occurs, and it does not tell us what students are supposed to do if we do not have access to the phone on the wall as they are only in the classrooms,” said Stamenova.

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School shootings and lockdowns: what if it happened here?