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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Teach your children (well)

This is primarily written for my parent audience, with the misdirected hopes that their students will listen to them more than they listen to me...
Recently the Crisis Management Team conducted a campus-wide active shooter training drill. This followed years of smaller tabletop exercises by the CMT and various departments, such as TUPD. The purpose of a large-scale drill is to test the response by campus employees, students, visitors, and guests. As a CMT we are always learning things and hope we never have to put those lessons to use.

As if this isn't enough for parents to worry about, a murder of a UT student on the campus in Austin around the same time amplified anxiety about safety on campus. Unfortunately, there are crazy people in a crazy world, one in which subways, schools, campuses, offices, airplanes, stadiums, clubs, churches, and movie theaters are under constant threat. This generation of parents was reluctant to let their kids play outside, and perhaps they were on to something. Ultimately, being in the wrong place at the wrong time can lead to tragic results. And then sometimes we simply need to be lucky.

Nevertheless, there are some things college students can do to try to tilt luck their way just a little.

1. Prepare
The performance of our students in the recent drill was pretty positive on the upper campus in the academic and administrative buildings. In the residence halls it was woeful. Perhaps it is because they knew it was a drill. But we all know, how you practice is how you play. Residents mostly saw the drill as an inconvenience. On the upper campus we had more success, because the faculty and staff had more direct responsibility and impact. Even then, I encountered students blissfully ignoring warnings because, well, they had to study.

Parents, urge your students to participate in drills and respond to alarms. It could save them someday. Also, have them review our really well done web pages on emergency preparedness and TUPD procedures (excellent links on the left side of that site).

2. Use campus resources
Students are welcome to call TUPD for escorts at any time. Sometimes they are reluctant because they don't want to wait. A nice alternative is the under-utilized Elerts app, which enables a student to walk while holding a panic button on their mobile device. Releasing that button triggers an almost immediate response from TUPD.

3. Practice safe habits
This is always dangerous, because asking people to take precautions can be perceived as victim blaming. Victim blaming is something that is usually done after something bad happens and is directed toward an individual. We all have the right to not be mugged, to jog at night, and to go where we want when we want. Sometimes we do all the right things and bad things still happen. A group of students can be held up at gunpoint (it has happened) just as easily as an individual student can have a knife pulled on him or her (that happened too - a long time ago before dorms were locked).

But here are the basic harm-reduction strategies parents can stress with their students: travel in a group; be aware of surroundings; trust your gut feelings; use a designated driver; use seat belts; run in daylight; lock your room; only let people you know into buildings; and report suspicious activities.

A huge risk factor is alcohol. Urge students who drink to at least use the Optimal Buzz guidelines and avoid alcohol from public source containers (punch). Probably more good than bad has happened as a result of over-consumption, though most have to learn this by experience.

4. Keep your guard up
Students can very easily be lulled into a false sense of security. They will leave clothes in the dryer for days, walk away from laptops to get a snack, leave their balcony doors unlocked, and confuse a bubble for a fence.

It is natural for people to be vigilant after something bad happens. Sustained, reasonable, and appropriate concern can go a long way in helping students be safer. 


flacius1551 said...


1. Of course a lot of people ignored an active shooter drill. I've had several of them at work in the last three years and I text all the way through them, too. Active shooter drills are the equivalent of "duck and cover" drills in the 1950s. What's the point? Is there any evidence that this training has ever prevented deaths or injuries? It's just a CYA move that all institutions are taking in response to social changes (trying to be polite and neutral there).

2. The real problem at UT wasn't a failure of UT campus security. It is the fact that TCPS is so woefully underfunded that it can't keep track of its own population or get them into the treatment that they in some cases need. It's well known that at times its charges have to sleep in administrative offices because there aren't enough foster homes or beds in group homes. If parents are scared that a mentally ill minor will enter the Trinity campus in order to harm one of their kids, I would suggest that they lobby for increased funding and support to the Texas social safety net. (Again trying to be polite and neutral here -- supporting government efforts to help the downtrodden was not the general mood of the parents of fellow students when I attended Trinity.)

David Tuttle said...

This comment came to mind following the recent UCLA shooting. There, the students and employees cited a lack of drills and training. Many were caught off guard and had no idea what to do. Most of what happened there was occurring well after the shooting. It was certainly a tragedy. But I bet they will start training now. It is probably better to have some people know how to respond who can lead others than to have everyone asking 'what do we do."