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Post-Shooting Report: UNC-Chapel Hill Staff Needs Training

The report recommends that the university “create a mandatory active assailant training program for faculty and staff that includes general best practices and specific training based on the variety of cross-campus facilities."

(TNS) - In a response to last fall’s fatal on-campus shooting, UNC-Chapel Hill is receiving a recommendation that would require all faculty and staff to complete active-shooter training.

But it remains unclear whether university leaders will heed the guidance.

The recommendation comes as part of the “after-action review” the university commissioned in the months following the Aug. 28 shooting that locked down the campus for hours and left professor Zijie Yan dead. The university released a summary of the report’s findings Thursday.

The News & Observer reported after the shooting that the university’s active-shooter training was not mandatory. Some UNC students recounted to The N&O in the days following the Aug. 28 shooting that they felt their professors were not prepared for the emergency.

The university was previously urged in a 2020 internal audit to require such training for faculty and staff, but the university failed to implement the recommendation, The N&O first reported.

Among other findings, the report recommends that the university “create a mandatory active assailant training program for faculty and staff that includes general best practices and additional, specified information based on the variety of cross-campus facilities.” The report also recommends students receive the training during new-student orientation programs, and that faculty and staff review classroom-specific safety procedures, including how to properly lock and secure their doors, with their students each semester.

In an interview with The News & Observer, UNC Police Chief Brian James said any decision to implement required training campus-wide would rest with the university’s chancellor — currently Lee Roberts, who is serving in the role in an interim capacity.

“That would have to be a recommendation of university leadership to make it mandatory,” James said. “But we would certainly be prepared to support that.”

Roberts said in January that he would wait for the report to be issued before weighing in on whether he believed training should be required. But he said people may be more willing to participate in such a requirement following the August shooting.

“There’s generally a mandatory training, especially for faculty, but this might be an exception to that,” Roberts said at the time.

Aside from training, the report also includes recommendations related to improving surveillance and security technology and bettering the university’s emergency notification system, Alert Carolina. In some cases, the improvements are already underway. In others, the process to fully implement the recommendations may take months or years, UNC Vice Chancellor for Institutional Integrity and Risk Management George Battle said in a campus message Thursday.

“This report is just the beginning. It is the findings, it is the recommendations of an independent review,” UNC’s emergency management and planning director, Darrell Jeter, told The N&O. “We now want to take that report and develop an improvement plan so that we can have actionable steps, in the form of corrective actions, to address those recommendations and to put in place enhancements in those areas where we need to improve and enhance in the coming weeks and months.”

Report recommends training

While the university currently offers active-shooter training on a voluntary basis by request, it is not required. The report noted that the university “has accessible preparedness materials” available, but it stated that the university should work toward establishing “a unified approach to campus preparedness and training.”

James told The N&O that the university saw a noticeable increase in the number of people who requested and participated in the training after the shooting. His department taught 93 in-person training sessions this academic year, with more than 2,800 campus members participating in them, an uptick from just 21 sessions the previous year, he said.

“Obviously, the shooting in inspired an increase in demand for that,” James said.

The report recommends the university “actively explore practical options to implement standard active assailant training for faculty and staff within the upcoming academic year.”

James said that such a requirement would likely rely on the use of virtual training, which is currently available as an option for those seeking out training voluntarily.

“The virtual option certainly would have to be employed in order to accomplish” training all faculty and staff, he said.

The report also recommends the university provide active-shooter training and other safety resources to incoming students during their orientation programs. James said the university does not currently have plans to implement such training into orientation — and he feels that doing so might not be the best approach or venue for students to receive the information.

“There’s so much information that’s being delivered to students at that time. We certainly don’t want the importance of it to get lost in everything else — which, of course, all that information is important,” James said. “But I feel, personally, as UNC [police] chief, that that should be a separate delivery, separate and apart from New Student Orientation.”

At least one member of the university’s Board of Trustees supports requiring training for faculty, staff and students. Trustee Dave Boliek advocated to his fellow board members in the days following the August shooting that the university should adopt a policy to implement such requirements. He later told The N&O that he believes university leaders “owe students and faculty direct information and training.”

James said he hopes his department will also complete active-shooter training for officers each summer, which they did last summer prior to the shooting and “was very helpful to us.” He hopes those drills, as the report recommends, will include other local law enforcement agencies that may be asked to respond to campus during an emergency.

Improving campus surveillance

The after-action report also includes several recommendations to improve campus security technology, particularly those elements related to surveillance.

“UNC-Chapel Hill should conduct a feasibility study to centralize access, monitoring, maintenance, management and storage of camera surveillance footage,” reads one recommendation.

“The University should use multiple approaches to prioritize campus and building safety, including upgrading existing camera systems and ensuring the ability for offices and all classrooms to lock from the inside,” reads another.

The university had already begun making improvements related to both recommendations prior to the August shooting, but some of the work remains ongoing.

Last summer, for instance, new security cameras were installed at the entryways of campus residence halls “as an extra security measure,” James said. But he noted that there are still “blind spots” around campus that do not have cameras installed or “have very little camera coverage,” and that some existing cameras on campus are outdated.

When The N&O previously requested surveillance video of Caudill Labs, where the August shooting took place, from the day of the shooting, the university’s public records office said no such records existed.

James said the university will work to address the current shortcomings of the campus security cameras identified in the after-action report, and that the technology will remain a priority going forward.

The university could soon receive additional funding to support its camera infrastructure. As part of its budget priorities for the current legislative session, the UNC System Board of Governors included a $4 million request from UNC-Chapel Hill for an “enterprise security camera system.” And even more funding is likely on its way to the campus police department, after the Board of Trustees voted to send $2.3 million previously allocated for diversity efforts to public safety instead.

The university has also entered into a contract to install license plate readers on campus, an effort that will cost about $221,000, The N&O previously reported.

The university expected to spend roughly $14 million on the UNC police department in the current fiscal year, according to its budget.

Improvements to Alert Carolina system

In another recommendation related to technology, the report also suggests improvements for the university’s emergency notification system, Alert Carolina.

Jeter, the university’s emergency management director, said members of the campus community “had expressed a keen interest in seeing some enhancements with the messaging through Alert Carolina” after the shooting.

Some faculty members told former Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Chris Clemens following the shooting that they felt the system did not provide enough, or precise-enough, information during the Aug. 28 lockdown.

Some asked for the alerts to provide more specific information about where campus emergencies are unfolding, or to provide clearer instructions for how they could stay safe during the lockdown. Others expressed concern about how often messages were delivered, as well as the frequency varying depending on the platform — text messages or social media, for instance — being used to deliver them.

The report anticipates the outcome of the recommendation to be that the university “will explore improved language for Alert Carolina messages and opportunities to provide more frequent updates during an incident” and “create an education campaign so the campus will know what communications to expect in an emergency.”

“We are certainly going to be looking at how we can provide more clear messaging with the notifications that we send out,” Jeter said.

Jeter said the Alert Carolina messages are meant to notify the university community of verified and confirmed threats on campus, and that they do not serve as “breaking news” notifications. He also noted that information can change rapidly during an emergency and that the alerts should provide information and instructions “that regardless of the changing dynamics of the situation, it provides you with the best option you can take to stay and remain safe until our law enforcement agencies are able to issue an all-clear.”

The report also includes recommendations for the university to better incorporate mental health resources, including counseling, into the university’s emergency response and coordination efforts.

Jeter said he hopes the university will use a collaborative approach to continue improving campus safety and making members of the university aware of the resources, such as training and other preparation materials, that are available.

James said he hopes the report empowers all members of the campus community — but particularly those in leadership roles — to take steps to prepare themselves for emergencies, whether they be active-shooter incidents, natural disasters or other events.

“Safety is an ongoing process,” James said, “and we all play a role.”

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