Memorial University’s critical incident response plan received a real test yesterday with the incident of a student carrying a pellet gun on campus.
Within two and a half hours of the incident being reported, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) and Campus Enforcement and Patrol (CEP) officials apprehended the student, who explained that he had decided to bring the pellet gun on campus to use in a class project. His professor has since confirmed that the student was in class from 2-4 p.m. and had made a presentation as a take on a Monty Python comedy skit, using the pellet gun as a prop.
At the advice of the campus security team and in consultation with the RNC, the university issued an alert to the campus with a description of the individual and requesting that anyone seeing a person fitting that description call the campus security line.
The notice was issued via e-mail on the university’s Newsline service and posted on the university’s news site, today.mun.ca. The RNC indicated that the advisory was helpful in apprehending the suspect. The student was released later that evening. No charges have been laid, but the RNC investigation continues. The university is also investigating the incident.
In any critical incident response, the principles guiding the university are to act to assist investigations and to enhance safety.
Here is what happened:
• A swift response from CEP and RNC ensured that the incident was resolved quickly and appropriately.
• Communications between the RNC and the university/CEP were excellent and enabled Memorial to augment the investigation with its CEP and communications teams.
• Communications to the university community through the incident were appropriate to the situation. These were guided by advice received from CEP and the RNC. Had it been a different circumstance, then different communications may have been necessary.
• The university used e-mail and web-based communications to broadcast the alert. The purpose was to reach a wide audience, but it was not necessary to reach everyone in the university. When it is necessary to reach everyone in the university, then there are different protocols in place (e.g. in the event of a major snow storm closure, the university can communicate closure and effectively empty its facilities within minutes).
• The university has an active Crisis Plan that is tested regularly (coincidentally, the next regularly scheduled test of the plan is next week) that it invokes when the circumstances dictate. It was not invoked yesterday as the circumstances did not warrant that measure.
• The university has significant safety and security systems in place including:
CEP officers and patrols around the clock.
Surveillance cameras throughout the campus that are monitored around the clock.
Immediate access to security emergency lines from all campus pay phones.
Emergency call boxes in select locations.
Emergency procedures and policies are available on the university’s web site. Alert information is also posted when appropriate and necessary.
The university is continuing to improve its alert systems.
The university has a complex system of communication modes that it uses in time of emergency that includes: web-based, e-mail, posters, phone trees, media alerts, news releases/public service announcements, briefings, building alarm systems, etc.
It began implementing its “one MUN e-mail” system for students this fall to ensure that all students use their MUN-provided e-mail addresses. When fully implemented, this will provide one more way to communicate directly and quickly with all students.