Throughout the United States and the rest of the world, people are still thinking about the tragic event that took place in Newtown, Conn., at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012.
At the institutional level, South Puget Sound Community College has been planning for such an emergency ever since the Columbine High School shooting of 1999.
Gloria Bubemyre works at the help desk on the second floor of the Student Union Building. Earlier this year, she attended a seminar at SPSCC about armed intruder scenarios called “Recognizing/Preventing Violence and Shots Fired,” and is prepared should the unthinkable happen. The second floor has rooms with locking doors that can double as safe rooms in such an emergency, and the doors that lead to the inner offices can lock as well.
Even though Washington is as plagued with guns at schools as any other state, things have fortunately been calm on the SPSCC campus for a while. The last known incident was in 2002 when student Lance Holland was accused by a school employee of carrying a handgun.
SPSCC Director of Security Lonnie Hatman is an integral part of the campus’ Incident Management Team, and he oversees practice drills done in conjunction with the local police departments.
“We actually have a pretty good working relationship with Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater, because we touch all three of those,” he said. “The Hawks Prairie Center is in Lacey, and part of this campus is actually in Tumwater,” he said.
Practice drills are done on campus by SPSCC security in conjunction with the local police departments on a yearly basis and more often if new SPSCC employees need to be trained.
SPSCC’s Day Care Center is used for drill practice because “it’s out of the way, and they have real young children, a potentially more vulnerable population, and that’s something that we practice more often with them than we do anywhere else,” said Hatman.
SPSCC has several means at its disposal for alerting people on campus should an armed intruder ever show up. Hatman said he has e2Campus for text messaging or email, ReachPlus can bring up a pop-up message on any computer on campus, and an e-campus telephone can do a group paging of phones in a particular area.
“So we have some redundant ways to send out emergency messages that something’s going on,” he said.
To prevent an incident like the Newtown shooting from happening on campus, SPSCC is using a “behavioral intervention” program. Hatman is part of the Behavioral Intervention Team that handles incidents of a psychologically disconcerting nature.
Hatman said, “The whole idea of the team is to meet on incidents where someone is writing something that makes somebody concerned about it because they’re talking about using weapons or doing violent acts, identifying those as early as possible before it becomes a serious issue.”
Hatman said he believes in the mission of the Behavioral Intervention Team. “I think it’s much more effective to try and identify mental issues and behavioral issues as early as possible,” he said. Incidents can be reported to the Behavioral Intervention Team through the college website.
Hatman talked a bit about the incident at Newtown from a security perspective, “They actually did a fairly good job of security. I mean, [Adam Lanza] had to shoot the window out to get in; he didn’t just walk in the door.” He added that SPSCC could theoretically be made completely safe, but no one would want to go to school here. “We’d have gates and armed guards and dogs sniffing around,” he said.
Should the unthinkable happen, the staff and faculty of SPSCC are prepared. When asked if he would feel prepared if an emergency were to occur on campus, Professor David Knoblach said “SPSCC is safer than many urban and suburban places in Washington.”
Because emergency plans are currently in place, Newtown caused no institutional alarms or hasty calls for additional policies to be drafted. The people of SPSCC, however, are still deeply moved by the tragic event of Newtown, and are trying to find an answer. “Now that our children and our babies are targets, maybe we should let Veterans guard our schools,” said Bubemyre.