Questions about campus safety prompt evaluation

The University is trying to address concerns and questions that were raised by students and faculty after the threat of armed intruders on campus last week, said USF spokesman Michael Hoad.

Hoad said part of the solution involves better communication with students and faculty on procedures, eliminating cell phone dead spots and fixing door locks.

The University needs to redefine what a lockdown is though, Hoad said, as some arguments question whether a campus should lock its doors because some students could get locked outside of buildings.

That’s what happened on Oct. 5 during a near four-hour campus lockdown when some students were “standing around” because they either did not know what to do or they thought it was a joke, Hoad said.

“It’s not the students’ fault,” he said. “We haven’t done the work on communicating what to do when there is a threat of a gunman.”

Around 1:36 p.m., former USF student Markenson Innocent identified himself as “Isaiah Daniels” to a 911 dispatcher and said that “Markenson Innocent” was on campus with a bomb and a gun near the Library, which prompted USF to use its Emergency Notification System.

Hoad said the University Communications office is planning to restructure its system for students.

“But there are no great answers here because if somebody’s waving a gun, firing, the best thing to do is run like hell,” Hoad said.

USF has multiple emergency alert systems: MoBull text messages, which has over 56,000 subscribers, Emergency Notification System made up of eight sirens throughout campus, updates on USF’s Web site and e-mails.

However, University Police (UP) spokeswoman Lt. Meg Ross said information comes so fast from different places in an emergency situation that UP is giving it almost as quickly as it’s received, much like the situation on Oct. 5.

Another concern for students and faculty were the cell phone dead spots on campus, where people had trouble receiving the MoBull alerts during the incident, Hoad said.

It’s uncertain if the University will ever have the money to fix the dead spots, Hoad said. Instead, USF is considering spending money on an electronic PA system.

USF is now looking into installing a system that has small screens to show the MoBull alerts as well, he said. The screens would be installed inside campus classrooms.

The PA system would be implemented at the Library and lecture halls first and then phased into other areas on campus, Hoad said.

Because the University is still in the “bidding process,” Hoad said he does not know how much the PA system would cost. It would be “expensive” and funds to pay for the system would “probably come from the University,” he said.

“Some universities … have charged an additional student fee for security,” Hoad said. “But I’m not aware of anyone proposing that at USF … (The charge) is really a student decision.”

The University also received complaints of a lack of updates on the USF Web site, which professors are told to use as their primary update source, he said.

Students in a Mass Communications and Society class in the Business Administration Building Room 1100 were not receiving alerts about the Oct. 5 incident, said USF assistant professor Rick Wilber.

The Emergency Notification System sounded the first siren alert at 1:46 p.m., and a MoBull alert followed at 1:49 p.m.

Wilber said he was using USF’s Web site to teach the class when he noticed an alert on the site around 2:09 p.m. that said an armed intruder was on campus.

Wilber was unable to lock the classroom doors. Hoad said the problem is because of the building’s “old architecture.” Other students raised concerns about not being able to lock doors.

“I’m a little worried about one thing with that, though. Nationally, people worry that when you’re worried about every lock, you create a false sense of security,” Hoad said. “An armed person can blow any door down. National experts say you can focus on making sure every door is fixed and locked, but that doesn’t guarantee security.”

Those locks are easily fixed when a “Work Request Form” is filled out, he said.

AlliedBarton, a campus security firm, completes those forms when a door that can’t be secured is found, Ross said.

In the last several years, many campus buildings have switched to card access, which is safer compared to key locks, Ross said.

But individuals have to get clearance in order to use card access, and the card can be deactivated if someone loses it, she said.

There are cameras located throughout campus but they “aren’t everywhere,” Ross said, and they are used mostly during investigations, rather than as surveillance.

Cameras in a parking lot near the Magnolia Apartments led UP to make an arrest in a 2006 murder on campus, she said.

Ross, who has been with UP for 21 years, said the campus is safer than the surrounding area and police have been more “aggressive” in their enforcement than in previous years.

Two arrests were made during the scare: Innocent is being held at the Orient Road Jail and is charged with false report of bomb on state property (felony), unlawful use of two-way communications device (felony) and disrupting school campus or function (misdemeanor).

USF student Vincent McCoy, who remains in jail, was also arrested after he claimed he had a bomb on a Bull Runner D bus.

Ross said she encourages students to have their own plan of action during an emergency situation, including leaving campus if possible.

“When we teach women self defense, we encourage women to have a plan,” Ross said. “If you’re at the ATM machine and someone comes up and attacks you, what’s your plan on what to do? The same is true here. It’s a huge education process.”

– Additional reporting by Kerry Klecic