What if?

The possibility of a shooting or hostage situation at Chico State has campus police thinking ahead

TECH POLICE<br>In the near future, there likely will be a system set up to notify students, like Jessica Sherri-Martin, by voice or text message in the case of a campus emergency.

In the near future, there likely will be a system set up to notify students, like Jessica Sherri-Martin, by voice or text message in the case of a campus emergency.

Photo By Brittni Zacher

Imagine this: A man in black enters the Bell Memorial Union. He is wielding a gun and orders all the students in the building to sit quietly in the auditorium, or else he’ll shoot.

With Chico State’s current emergency system, some classes may be alerted to the hostage situation via e-mail, but most won’t get the message and will continue with business as usual, unaware of what is happening only hundreds of feet away.

Unfortunately, hostage situations like this hypothetical one are becoming more common on school campuses. In April, 32 people were killed and many more wounded at Virginia Tech when a mentally ill student went on a shooting rampage. And closer to home, in Oroville, a month and a half ago a hostage situation occurred at Las Plumas High School. A student allegedly distraught over a break-up with his girlfriend held 30 students hostage in the band room, eventually releasing them without injury.

Officials at Chico State are looking into how they can be prepared for the possibility of an incident like these happening on Chico State’s campus. The sheer size of Chico State makes it extremely difficult to strategize about the possibility of an active-shooter or hostage situation, said University Police Chief Eric Reichel.

“We’re on a large campus with thousands of people,” he said, “so being prepared is of additional importance.”

One way University Police are working on making the campus safer in the event of one of these situations is creating a more effective notification system. Currently students, faculty and staff are alerted to safety concerns via mass e-mails. However, University Police are in the process of contracting with a private vendor to implement a mass cell-phone-notification system that would send voice alerts and text messages to everyone on campus.

This type of a mass messaging system is very similar to the reverse-911 system in place in San Diego County, through which police were able to convey evacuation orders to hundreds of thousands of residents during the recent fires. Reichel said this system likely will be in place by the end of this school year or by the start of the next.

“We want to not rely on just one means for notifying people,” Reichel said. “Even if that means sending officers door to door.”

These messages would alert faculty, staff and students to the fact that officers are on their way to the scene, instruct them on a safe area of campus they should move to, or even give the address of a Web site where they can go for emergency information, Reichel said.

In order to implement a mass cell phone-messaging system for Chico State, University Police will be asking students to provide them with a number at which to reach them in the event of an emergency.

“We already have emergency contact information of who to contact for you in case there was an emergency,” Reichel said. “But we need to know how we contact you if something were to happen.”

From many students’ standpoints the cell-phone-notification system is a good idea. Jennifer Wilson said a call or text message would be a better way of notifying people of emergency situations than the current e-mail system.

“In my classes people constantly have cell phones on their desk or in their pocket,” Wilson said.

Many elementary, junior high and high school campuses have lockdown procedures, during which students and teachers are locked inside classrooms for safety in the event of an active-shooter situation. This type of a system is difficult to implement at Chico State because it is such a large, open campus, Reichel said. However, there are a few campus buildings that the police do have the ability to lock down, including Kendall and Yolo halls, the PAC and the O’Connell building.

Graduate Student Ian Fullmer said he does not think Chico State is at all prepared for the possibility of a school shooting or hostage situation.

“I think it would be chaos,” he said. “People would be running around trying to save themselves and maybe their best friend.”

However, Fullmer said the possibility of such an incident happening is not something he worries much about.

“I don’t preoccupy myself with it,” he said. “I think most students have a lot of other things to worry about on a daily basis.”