Since the shooting at Seattle Pacific University and before, colleges and universities in Washington take many security measures.
From cellphone alerts to emergency call boxes and lockdown drills, colleges and universities in Washington prepare for the worst, while striving to be open and welcoming to communities they serve.
The shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., on Thursday was a reminder of the vulnerability all colleges share, higher-education administrators in Washington said. Most colleges are open access, and with that comes the possibility of violence from inside or outside the communities they serve.
A little more than a year ago, Aaron Ybarra, who was not a student, walked onto the Seattle Pacific University campus, killed one student and wounded two others. He is being held without bond at the King County Jail while he awaits trial on murder charges, which is scheduled for January 2016.
“It is something we know from SPU, someone can come on campus and commit horrendous crimes,” said Laura McDowell, director of communications for the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.
Campuses around the state have continuously added to their safety protocols in an attempt to prevent shootings and other emergencies on campus, and to respond to them.
“This ultimately is the new fire drill, this notion that the threat may not come from an earthquake or a fire,” McDowell said. “It may come in the form of a gun.”
The presidents of the community and technical colleges of Washington happened to be gathered for their regular monthly meeting when the news of the shooting in Roseburg broke, inducing a collective shudder.
“As soon as we heard, our hearts and prayers went out to the community, because of what we went through, said Don Mortenson, senior vice president for planning and administration at Seattle Pacific University, where students are drilled at least once a quarter in what to do in an emergency.
Those include lockdown and shelter-in-place drills, as well as evacuation drills. Many of the buildings on campus can be locked rapidly from a central location in case of a threat of violence.
The university, like many other higher-education institutions in the state, also deploys an alert system that informs students, faculty and staff of any ongoing emergency by text, email and phone. Message boards and public-address systems also can get the word out.
This spring, Seattle Central College installed blue emergency call towers and call boxes, with cameras, to provide another way to assist in or report an emergency on campus. “It is just another way to try to keep people safe,” said spokesman David Sandler. “It is always a balance. As a public institution in the middle of a large urban area, we want to be as open and welcoming as possible.”
At Bellevue College, emergency messages can take over any desktop computer on campus and soon will be able to take over the college’s Web pages as well, converting them to an emergency information hub.
Many colleges also take a preventive approach, by seeking to identify struggling students who may need counseling or other support. The so-called Behavior Intervention Teams are standard practice at Whatcom Community College, said Luca Lewis, vice president of student services there. They are also used at Bellevue College, said spokeswoman Evan Epstein.
“We are a place where we watch out for people, instead of watching over them,” Epstein said. “But obviously no college is immune to the threat of any sort of violence.”