|University of Texas Shooting Incident
||[Sep. 28th, 2010|01:15 pm]
Just after 8 am this morning, a gunman started popping off AK47 rounds on the UT campus. An hour later, he was dead (self-inflicted gunshot wound) , the campus was in lockdown, and law enforcement officers were looking for a possible second shooter. By noon, the all-clear had been sounded; students had been evacuated from locked-down buildings, and it was clear that there'd been no second shooter. (The blog link is to the Austin American-Statesman, and the blog updates as new data come in.) No one else was shot. There were no incident-related injuries.
This is not the first shooting incident at the University of Texas--the famous, or infamous, one being the Tower shootings in 1966. But UT has learned--not just from that, but from other school/university incidents. In August, local law enforcement held a joint training exercise for the university and city police and other agencies that might get involved...the second of the summer. As a result of the thought and training, at least four (maybe five--I lost track) agencies arrived fast, acted fast, and with communication and command that the Austin police chief called "seamless cooperation," penned the shooter into the 6th floor of the Perry-Castaneda Library where he shot himself.
I was following this on Twitter after a friend alerted me to the situation--Twitter has great immediacy but also great redundancy on things like this--and like most people kept expecting to hear about additional casualties. There weren't any but the shooter himself. That in itself is remarkable. We don't expect--after seeing on TV all the confusion that's occurred at other shooting incidents at schools--emergency plans to actually work like this. We expect delays, confusion, agencies that don't have a shared radio frequency, turf squabbles, students who have no idea there's a shooter on campus, etc.
UT is my second university--it's where I got my second degree, and I can't say that I was at all impressed by its emergency planning in the early '70s. But they've made intelligent changes, using technology as it develops. Their alerts to students include loudspeakers, sirens, text messaging and email, for instance. Most students interviewed said they'd received at least some critical information (sirens only tell you something is wrong, not what.) Whoever (individual or committee) designed their emergency response system obviously did something--more than one something--right. It still squicks me to see heavily armed men in black herding students, but at least it was being done calmly, without screaming and adding to the stress (compare Columbine.) Shuttle buses had been corraled to take evacuated students to apartment complexes, etc. away from campus.
If the gunman's first shots had in fact killed or injured people, that would certainly have increased the chaos and adrenalin level of all concerned...but until law enforcement was sure that there weren't more shooters, it still wasn't a simple or easy thing to handle.
I'm sure that in the aftermath, there will be mistakes to point out...but not many in the response effort. I've watched a fair number of these things now--this was clearly a far more controlled, planned response with people who knew what they were supposed to be doing and went at it without hysteria. And any university that doesn't yet have a similar plan in place...about time to talked to UTexas and found out how to do it.
Husband (UT staff) received the first text message, which unfortunately was ambiguous: "armed suspect in PCL" reads the same whether the suspect has an AK47 or has just committed (or attempted) robbery at knifepoint. Since he works in another quadrant of campus, parking right across the street, he went on in. After which, he was stuck in his office for the next several hours, listening to loudspeaker announcements that were so distorted, they might as well have been in Klingon. (I should add that the sirens are so loud that I can hear them 2 miles away, while inside on the other side of the house.)
Emergency pages were also ambiguous, yoyoing between "university is closed" and "university is open," with the latter appearing at least once in conjunction with "shelter in place."
UT's response is excellent, but they have a bit further to go in maintaining *clear* communication with civilians. I keep hearing about the orders-writing class at Annapolis; do they still do this, and is there any way to get this training into other places where it's needed?
A very good point, Sophie. I don't know if Annapolis still has that class (bet they do, but have no inside info) but certainly the UT administration needs to have someone (maybe three, since one or even two may not be there on the day an emergency happens) people trained in how to send accurate, timely, information.
There should be a very clear chain of command: who decides what should be told, who that person tells to send it, etc., so all messages can be validated.
Ambiguous meanings need to be resolved (What, precisely, does "the campus is closed" mean? It appeared to mean several different things yesterday.) Until the meaning of expressions (such as campus is closed or open) the message will be foggy at best.
I get the feeling, from having followed this on Twitter for over 3 hours, that the Administration itself was getting conflicting information and directives from different levels. All those need to be brought into the discussion (if my sense of how it worked is at all correct) and--as with the law enforcement agencies--given training and practice in their role, esp. as regards information given out.
OTOH, I know from experience in mass-casualty situations while in EMS that the outside demand for information can swamp the ability of units to perform their primary duties (digging people out of wreckage after a tornado, let's say) because every !**! media outlet in the region is calling them on the phone, demanding to know details, sending helicopters to blow debris around and scare already frightened livestock into total panicky stampede, etc. while they take pictures from above. Every reporter thinks that every part of every organization has, or should have, someone who can spend 10-15 minutes or more answering all the questions that reporter can think up. And they get very annoyed if you hang up on them, or tell them you have better things to do because someone is bleeding.
Hence the need for a designated person or group to respond to all these demands for information and let the people who are coping with the emergency do their jobs. The kind of public relations staff who are used to putting out press releases about scholarships and alumni functions and awards won by this or that department, professor, or student is not necessarily trained for, or ready to handle, a ton of media pressure in an emergency.
Getting the word out: Sirens are unspecific: something's wrong, go find more information. Loudspeakers are always iffy, as both amplifiers and bounce-back from solid surfaces distort the sounds. Certainly Admin needs to know that the louder volume does not actually improve clarity. Texting, email, Twitter--all reasonable ways to communicate now, if the information is accurate and timely. But again...there are stretches in any emergency when it's not possible for those trying to manage the thing to have new reliable information every thirty seconds. The immediacy of things like Twitter means that many people (including me) are used to moment-by-moment updates...even when there's nothing more to say for another half hour. It's unrealistic to expect that level of information transfer from those in charge--they have other duties as well.
It IS realistic to expect accurate information (to the best of the data available at the time) when it's given. That's where training in clarity would be helpful, and should be instituted. I would bet that if someone in the university approached the military with that problem--"We need to learn how to be more accurate in our orders to students during an emergency"--they'd find plenty of experienced officers who could help. (I know who I'd send them to, but LV just retired from the Texas Guard and is moving to Seattle. No longer available.)
Trust in the PD is important (something that my school is currently lacking). Proper filters on email are crucial (the Alert email system was flagged as Spam for awhile ... oops). Fortunately we didn't have any emergencies that week.