April Jitters

A wave of lockdowns and bomb threats unsettle many campuses.

April 19, 2013

In the wake of this week’s bombing in Boston, it only makes sense for security to be on everyone’s mind. But April is a month that has campus security experts extra vigilant.

This month, multiple colleges and universities have at varying points imposed lockdowns after reports of gunmen on campus.

According to Anne Glavin, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and chief of police at California State University at Northridge, this time of year always has law enforcement on high alert. "April has quite a history to it,” Glavin said in an interview, citing the shootings at Virginia Tech and Columbine as well as incidents unrelated to education, such as the Oklahoma City bombing and the shootout at Waco. “Generally when you have that kind of history, there’s an expectation that you might run into something else.”

“All university police department have had a heightened awareness of security since the tragedy at Virginia Tech several years ago,” said Sgt. Robert McLaughlin, North Carolina Central University’s emergency management coordinator, via e-mail. “It is more likely that several incidents have just happened to occur in the last few weeks."

Last week, North Carolina Central imposed a lockdown after an attempted armed robbery at a residence hall.

In other recent incidents:

  • Carroll University, in Wisconsin, was placed on lockdown after reports of a gunman on campus. When an arrest was made, the suspect was later revealed to be carrying an airsoft gun and ticketed for disorderly conduct.
  • Tarrant County College, in Texas, was locked down over reports of an armed burglary suspect on campus.
  • North Carolina's Elizabeth City State University was locked down over reports of shots fired on-campus by a non-student.
  • The University of Rhode Island locked down over reports of a gunman -- reports that eventually proved false.
  • On Thursday a bomb threat  caused California's College of the Redwoods to close for the day rather than lock down, while California's Cabrillo College was evacuated over a suspicious package.
  • Late Thursday, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported gunshots on campus and urged people to stay clear of the area where the shots had been heard. Details were not available.

McLaughlin added that on top of the existing procedures in place in case of emergency, "[a]t NCCU, we held the largest active shooter drill in the University of North Carolina system in early January. The purpose of the exercise was to test the capabilities and preparedness of the NCCU Police and emergency response team, and their ability to coordinate with other law enforcement and emergency agencies, particularly those of the city and county of Durham.”

While there is always the possibility of a false alarm, many campus security sources say that it is better to be safe than sorry. “You would tend to… be extra alert if you got that type of call; that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t do anything,” Glavin said. “Every situation is taken seriously in terms of public safety protocols.”

“At North Carolina Central University the police department and university have a ‘better safe-than-sorry’ approach; however, we do want to confirm the source of the threat and determine its credibility before going into lockdown,” said McLaughlin. “There is a difference between ‘shots fired’ and reports of a gun on campus. When there is a ‘shots fired’ situation or report, we would automatically go into lockdown to ensure the safety of all individuals.”


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