Recent Shooting Renews Focus on Campus Safety

Similar incidents have occurred in Missouri with enough regularity that campus officials developed plans protect students and staff.

by Clinton Thomas, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo. / October 19, 2015

(MCT) - Two weeks after a mass shooting struck a community college in Oregon, the conversation continues locally regarding campus safety.

Similar incidents have occurred with enough regularity in recent years that campus officials have developed plans to respond and protect students and staff.

Tim Kissock, risk manager for Missouri Western State University, said safeguards are in place to make sure campus police don’t stand alone when faced with a shooter.

“We have agreements and understandings with other local law enforcement agencies that would come in and help us anytime we would need them,” Mr. Kissock said.

In Western’s case, partner agencies would include the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Department, St. Joseph Police Department and Missouri State Highway Patrol, along with the Missouri Department of Conservation, which has a regional office on campus.

Northwest Missouri State University has similar agreements for law enforcement from the community to help if an incident occurs on its campus in Maryville, Missouri.

While law enforcement holds the most direct responsibility in dealing with a potential shooter, another way to mitigate risk lies in the university’s ability to quickly spread information.

Tools such as Bearcat Alert allow students and staff at Northwest to sign up for text message alerts that will inform them when a situation occurs so they can take cover, avoid dangerous areas, or even stay away altogether in the case of commuters who may be on the way to class from off campus.

Mr. Kissock explained how Western’s emergency alert service includes texts and other means to make sure no one unknowingly walks into a dangerous situation.

“We have an emergency notification system where we can notify the entire campus community essentially instantly of any incident on campus,” Mr. Kissock said. “It goes to text messages to people’s phones, we have speakers in the hallways, it goes to emails, and we have P.A. systems on campus. It’s multi-modal.”

Much of the infrastructure designed to protect students fades into the background until it is needed. For example, black and yellow emergency alert beacon boxes can be found on the walls of almost any building where students might congregate at Western, ready to flash and provide messages in case of an incident. However, students such as Brennan Atwood did not know they were there until one was pointed out near the campus dining facility.

“I probably walk by that thing and other ones in other buildings a dozen times a day and didn’t even know,” Mr. Atwood said. “I always feel safe here anyway, but I guess it’s good to know they’re there if we need them.”

One of the most-discussed topics nationally regarding how to stop a potential shooter lies outside local universities’ control: the presence of concealed firearms on campus.

In Missouri, state law bans concealed weapons on college campuses, regardless of whether the person has obtained the training necessary for a permit. In Kansas, lawmakers recently passed legislation that would require public universities to allow people to carry concealed weapons on campus.

The shooting at Umpqua Community College revealed the confusion about concealed weapon laws in some communities. In that case, the school’s student conduct code banned weapons on campus, while Oregon state law prevented the school from enforcing the code for anyone who had a concealed carry permit.

Mr. Kissock said Western would not take a position on whether firearms should or should not be allowed on campus, stating that the university would enforce the law as it exists. He said incidents of people bringing concealed weapons to campus were rare, with most involving guns in cars for hunting purposes.

“People ask about guns on campus, and I think there are obviously different thoughts on this,” Mr. Kissock said. “What we do know is if something were to happen and a lot of people had concealed weapons, when the police responded, they might not know who the good guys are and they might not know who the bad guys are. That could create a very chaotic situation.”

On the other hand, multiple pundits have expressed the point of view that the presence of concealed weapons could deter a potential shooter. Mr. Kissock said it was impossible to say which view was correct.

“That’s the million dollar question, and I don’t have the answer for that,” Mr. Kissock said.

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©2015 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.)

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