College to Review Emergency Response Procedures After Two Incidents This Month
By Benjamin Pontz, Managing News Editor
Around 7:58 p.m. on Wednesday evening Oct. 11, the power went out at Gettysburg College.
At 8:30 p.m., the college sent its first campus-wide communication, an email from the Campus Emergency Response Team (CERT) indicating that the college’s IT network would go down shortly (it has only 45 minutes of operating capability after a power outage) and further updates would be sent via text message. Shortly after 9:00 p.m., the college did shut down the IT network, and, about 10 minutes later, the lights came back on. Life at Gettysburg began to return to normal.
In total, the power was out for about 90 minutes, but during that time, many students were locked out of buildings (including residence halls) that use an electronic card swipe system for access, Musselman Library and the Jaeger Center closed, and the college’s website, Wi-Fi network, and email server were inaccessible.
“Not every power outage is an emergency,” said Bill Lafferty, Director of Public Safety.
He characterized the event as a relatively minor power outage and referred to prior incidents in which the power was out for much longer in which the college took more sweeping action.
The previous week, the campus community received a public safety notice via email late in the evening on October 4 indicating that local police were in pursuit of a suspect who “is believed to be in possession of a gun.” The email advised students not to “walk alone on or off campus, especially after dark” and to “walk in groups” if necessary to be outside, which is standard language for such public safety notices.
The email did not, however, advise students to “shelter in place,” which was a warning given verbally by DPS dispatchers when students and The Gettysburgian called for more information.
Lafferty said that no official decision was made to advise students to shelter in place, and that dispatchers should not have given such advice since that directive was not made.
Ultimately, the suspect turned out not to have had a gun, and the pursuit moved away from campus. Because DPS is not a sworn police department and has no law enforcement jurisdiction, it cannot access encrypted police radio, and it relies on information local authorities choose to provide. As such, judgment calls are required in order to protect student safety, Lafferty said.
Lafferty conceded that, in the case of the power outage, when many students were required to leave buildings on campus such as the library and the fitness center with nowhere to go if their residence halls were inaccessible, “It’s certainly contradictory to what we would like,” to have students roaming campus after dark particularly with limited streetlights.
Natalie Hinton, Director of User Services at Musselman Library, said that she made the best decision she could based on the information that was available. The library has limited emergency lighting, and, particularly when people are not on the main floor, she has safety concerns keeping the building open. As such, she made the decision to close and reopen the subsequent morning.
In the future , Lafferty said he would have conversations with managers of large buildings on campus about whether it is possible to hold people in such areas rather than send them elsewhere. Facilities Services had begun to re-key residence halls requiring card access so that students could gain entrance via their room keys when power was restored.
Overall, Lafferty said that DPS will likely handle future situations in a similar way, but he emphasized that all processes are continually reviewed for possible improvements.
What are the criteria for sending an emergency communication?
Timely Warning Campus Safety Alerts are sent to the college community to notify members of the community about specific Clery Act crimes (as described below) that have been reported to DPS and that have occurred on campus or on non-campus property or public property, where it is determined that the incident may pose a serious or ongoing threat to members of the College community. Crimes that occur outside the campus’ Clery geography, as stipulated or other non-Clery specific crimes, will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Information related to these crimes may be distributed to the campus as a Public Safety Notice. Campus Safety Alerts (timely warnings) may be distributed for any of the following Clery Act crime categories/classifications: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, sex offenses (rape, fondling, incest, and statutory rape), robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, arson, hate crimes, motor vehicle theft, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, or arrests and referrals for liquor law, weapons law, and drug law offenses.
Immediate or emergency notification to the campus about a confirmed seriously violent or extremely hazardous incident or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health and/or safety of students or staff occurring on the campus or near the campus can be accomplished through a variety of communications methods. Confirmation typically involves the response and assessment of DPS officers, college officials, local police, or emergency responders.