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Thursday, April 18, 2024
The Eagle

Opinion: AU must update its emergency preparedness plans

In light of the recent shootings on college campuses, AU students raise questions on campus safety

From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's April 2023 print edition. You can find the digital version here

In the entirety of 2022, there were 647 mass shootings in the United States. In the first six weeks of 2023, there were 71. While shootings in K-12 schools have unfortunately been a relatively common occurrence, shootings at higher education institutions were far less frequent until a few months ago.

Since 1996, there have been 12 college shootings in which there were three or more fatalities. This school year, however, there have been two deadly mass shootings on college campuses thus far — first with the tragedy at the University of Virginia on Nov. 13, and again just a few months ago at Michigan State University on Feb. 13. These two incidents of gun violence raise concerns for students at American University, many of whom do not know what safety protocols are in place to prevent an incident like this.     

In the days following the MSU tragedy, I began hearing conversations across campus about what to do in the case of an armed assailant breaching University buildings. It was not until then that I realized I had virtually no understanding of what the University’s protocols or procedures are in the case of an emergency like this. In the wake of these horrific events, students, especially first-years, should have been promptly informed about AU’s safety protocols.  

Although I understand that in the case of an incident such as an active shooter there is no way to be perfectly prepared, AU’s “emergency preparedness” website merely provides students with a one paragraph description of a one-minute video by the Department of Homeland Security guiding students to “run, hide, fight.” Upon further research, an active shooter preparedness memo from over six years ago, as well as a security resource notification from October 2022 can be found.     

On March 16, the AU community received a memo from Phillip Morse, assistant vice president of University police services, reinforcing these safety plans. However, each of these resources simply restates the same information from a few videos or articles, none of which are AU-specific. The resources are certainly useful, but they are painfully insufficient. Additionally, these pieces of information have yet to be consistently relayed to the AU community or updated with new information.   

It is imperative the AU community is well-informed about emergency procedures in the hopefully unlikely event that tragedy strikes our campus. “It will never happen here” is an all too commonly used phrase given the habitual acts of gun violence perpetuated all across the country every day. Without compromising protocol, of course, it would benefit the University to reexamine its active shooter preparedness documents to include information addressing AU campus-specific details.     

The first sentence of the final paragraph of the “Active Shooter Preparedness” memo reads: “the biggest obstacle to safety and security is complacency.” I implore the University’s security officials and the administration to take their own advice and avoid complacency. By streamlining communication to students and the community as to what preventative systems are in place and making the necessary changes to current protocols, the University has power to act. Given the uptick in shootings on college campuses, AU must take action to alleviate students’ fears and ensure that everyone is, without question, aware of the security measures and protocols in the case of an active shooter.     

Alice Still is a freshman in the School of Public Affairs and a columnist for The Eagle.

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