Office of the President

Follow-up Safety Message

Date: April 19, 2007
To: Campus Community
From: Paul J. Zingg, President

Following up my message to you Tuesday, I want to share some information that should be helpful to us all in preparing for the grim possibility of an incident akin to what happened at Virginia Tech. It is vital that, while we continue to express our grief and anger, we think about our own campus and what we can do to remain safe and healthy. I am sure every campus in the country is facing the same emotions this week, and doing its best to assess its readiness in the event of an emergency.

Questions that many of us have are:  What do we do as students, faculty, or staff if such a shooting breaks out on campus?  Are there university police and other staff trained to respond to such an event?  Is there a plan in place for the campus to respond?  Are there places on campus to report concerns about other campus members’ behavior or to refer campus members who we know and care about for help? Below is some information and advice in response to these questions. I realize this is a lengthy e-mail, but I believe it is crucial each of us has the opportunity to become familiar with the best information and practices available.

What to do

The CSU, Chico Police Department and our Public Affairs office will inform you as soon as possible via phone, e-mail, Web, mass media, and other means if an incident occurs, so be aware that your proximity to communication media is crucial in getting the word out. Right now phone contact is limited to campus phones, but we are investigating new technologies that could instantaneously ring cell phone numbers we have for campus community members.

The terrible situation that occurred at Virginia Tech is known in law enforcement as an active shooter incident. Below is a detailed description provided by police experts of what to do if there is an active shooter, but here are the main points summarized:

  • Two options exist for escaping the threat: evacuate or lock down
  • Do not assume help can come quickly
  • Learn evacuation options ahead of time
  • Lock down means preventing entry and concealing yourself
  • Move slowly and calmly when confronted by police responding to the emergency

Response to Active Shooter Incident

These incidents involve one or more persons using a firearm(s) with the intention of killing or wounding a large number of people as quickly as possible.  While motives have differed, historically many of the assailants have resolved to taking their own lives or die in a conflict with police.  Active shooter situations require swift and immediate deployment of law enforcement resources.

As a result of the Columbine High School shooting, police agencies across the nation have changed their traditional tactics when dealing with an active shooter.  Instead of surrounding a location, taking time to organize and begin dialogue with the shooter, police are now forming small immediate action teams with the goal of eliminating the shooter’s ability to continue shooting and/or isolate potential victims from harm’s way as quickly as possible.  In these cases, lost time equates to the loss of life.

Historically, active shooter incidents claim the most lives within the first minutes of the incident unfolding.  It is important to remember that in an active shooter incident or violent crime in progress, there is going to be insufficient information to make decisions with 100% confidence.  Assess the circumstances and make the best choice, given the situation you perceive.  With that said, there are really only two options you can make in an active shooter situation: evacuate or lock down.

When in doubt, evacuate, if it appears you can do so safely.  If there is a safe escape route, preferably through a window or back door, take it.  Remember that the safest emergency egress route may not be the main hallways.  Know in advance at least two ways out of your office, classroom, and building.  Have assembly points identified.  These locations need not necessarily be the campus’ main emergency assembly points; in fact, well-marked emergency assembly points could be targets for an active shooter.  These locations just need to be well-known places that faculty, staff, and students can quickly verbally describe, where the class or office staff will meet upon evacuation.  

Don’t assume the police and/or fire department will quickly come to start an evacuation process.  Active shooter incidents are the most chaotic, confusing, and difficult scenes to manage.  There may be gunshots and explosions.  There may be dead and injured persons.  The police department’s priorities will be (after dealing with the suspect’s intentional distractions and other acts to hamper the emergency response) to (a) locate/identify/isolate the problem, (b) find and neutralize the threat(s), and (c) deal with injured persons, but not to immediately start evacuation procedures.

Lock downs, on the other hand, may be appropriate if there appears to be no safe escape routes.  This could be due to gunfire, explosions, smoke, fire, etc.  Rooms that are on upper floors, or deep within complex structures, will be more difficult to safely evacuate.  In these situations lock doors leading into the room or office from the danger area.  Notify the University Police Department, if possible, as to where you are and how many students and/or staff members are there.  Close curtains/blinds and turn off the lights.  Conceal yourself.  Seek to present an impression to anyone who enters the room that there is no one there.  

When the police come in, move slowly, get down, and lay still.  The police may not have good information as to the number of suspects and weapons.  Follow police instructions.

Staff trained to respond

In the wake of the Columbine and 9/11 tragedies, the University Police Department and some other staff have been trained for a variety of emergencies, including an active shooter incident. We are fortunate to have highly trained, sworn police officers working at UPD. The police department is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week with police officers and dispatchers on duty. The 19 police officers at UPD receive all forms of specialized training, including responding to terrorist and active shooter incidents. The UPD Web page is: http://www.csuchico.edu/up/.

UPD has mutual aid agreements with Chico Police and other law enforcement agencies so they can be on campus right away to assist. In the event of a protracted emergency, we also have mutual support relationships with the other CSU campuses – their officers can be here promptly to help. For contact numbers of local, regional, and national agencies involved in emergency preparedness, go to our Web page: http://www.csuchico.edu/pa/emergency.php.

A note about who can carry weapons on campus:  It is a crime, punishable by felony, to bring a firearm or knife (with a blade longer than 2 inches) onto our campus.  It is also a crime to bring a taser/stun gun, BB/pellet gun, or any spot marker/paint gun into any building on our campus.

Plans in place

The State of California is a leader in emergency preparedness, and our campus has adopted the state emergency operations model that will be helpful in any sustained crisis. Last year, many of us took part in a day-long terrorist threat exercise that also included city and county personnel. We will continue to do run-throughs and exercises to practice how we would respond in a crisis when every second counts.

It’s conceivable that all of us might be called upon to assist in an emergency. UPD recently implemented a Community Service Unit that has several programs to equip people to be prepared:

We want to make sure that the campus environs are as safe as possible. The last two years, our campus Public Safety Advisory Committee has increased awareness of safety conditions through the annual “Moonlight Safety Walk” event.  Participating faculty, staff, and students identified potential hazards on campus and tested current safety equipment.  An improvement in campus-wide lighting has been one benefit from these walks, and there will be more lighting upgrades and other improvements to come.

Another campus group, the Emergency Management Committee, is currently reviewing the overall campus emergency plan, building evacuation plans, the emergency operations center and equipment, building continuity plans, and the building manager program. One key piece of any evacuation and/or building-wide notification is a designated building representative, and we will be doing much more to prepare these volunteers to assist us.

In regard to training, I expect we will do much more in the future in educating everyone on campus about how to respond to immediate, life-threatening crises such as befell Virginia Tech. I and others will be in touch as we implement these plans.

Reporting concerns

There may not be a topic more sensitive than discussing how to respond to people who may need to be reported for violent or dangerous behavior. Clearly and pointedly, this must have nothing to do with someone’s culture, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, appearance, or other characteristic. In addition, someone exhibiting signs of mental illness or disability does not make him or her a threat. If you have serious concerns about someone’s behavior, here are resources to access:

  • For immediate threats, contact UPD:  911, or at 898-5555. Web: http://www.csuchico.edu/up/
  • The University has a workplace violence team and policy that addresses how we can respond to violent incidents on the job. The policy can be read at: http://www.csuchico.edu/prs/EMs/EM98/em98_09.htm
  • The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (25 Main St. 898-4645)  provides confidential consultation, assessment, and referral sources for faculty and staff. In addition, they organize on-going workshops in conjunction with Psychological Counseling and Wellness regarding addressing workplace issues such as dealing with students who are in distress. Web: http://www.csuchico.edu/eap/
  • The Psychological Counseling Center (Library 141; 898-6345) offers free confidential personal counseling services to regularly enrolled students. The counselors are also available for consultations to staff and faculty regarding students for which they may have concerns. Web: http://www.csuchico.edu/cnts/
  • The Campus Wellness Center is a student-run peer education center housed within and operated through Psychological Counseling and Wellness. The Wellness Center provides peer education services about social issues; physical, emotional and spiritual well being; cultural diversity, environmental wellness; and life planning. Web: http://www.csuchico.edu/cnts/cwc/index.html
  • Student Judicial Affairs (Kendall Hall 110; 898-6897) is also available for consultation regarding disruptive behavior by students. Web: http://www.csuchico.edu/sjd/

Chico State is a connected and caring community that pays attention to its community members. The Counseling Center as well as Faculty Assistance takes several calls throughout the semester from faculty members concerned about students in their classes. Both of these units collaborate with University Police to initiate welfare checks as needed to ensure the safety of our students on campus.  Please continue to talk with one another about situations that trouble you and seek professional consultation when the situation seems above your knowledge base.

Clearly, the safety and well-being of every CSU, Chico campus member – student, faculty, and staff – is of prime importance each and every day.  

While the above activities may not have been known to all of you, rest assured there are many committed members of the Chico community who work towards creating and sustaining the safest and most effective learning and living environment possible.  It is all the more important to participate in educational and training programs on campus and to familiarize yourself with the various roles that each of us may be asked to play if an emergency touches our campus.

With the resources and plans articulated above in place, and given the special community that we share, I am confident that we will be able to respond in an informed and intentional manner to emergencies we may face.