Misleading Text Message Sends Rutgers University Students Into Panic
Yesterday, June 16, 2016, Rutgers University sent a text about an armed suspect on the New Brunswick campus.
Students everywhere panicked. The text was sent at 9:48 a.m. and alarmed the entire student population. Thirteen minutes after, a second text was sent that read: “End training scenario. End training scenario Alexander Library.”
After the incident, social media exploded with scathing tweets and posts from students who thought that the safety drill was done poorly, especially in light of the recent shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
The original Text message sent to the students was this:
RU ALERT: Armed suspect in the area of alexander library. Seek a safe space and shield/secure your location. TEST TEST 06/16/2016 09:42:39 EDT.
Students countered, however, that the words “Test, Test” at the end of the message was lost in their shocked and panicked state.
One RU student tweeted that the university officials should have “lead with the words ‘this is a test’. Most people zone out after they see the words ‘armed suspect’.”
A third text message was sent to the students, explaining what the incident was about:
RU ALERT: Earlier message was sent during a planned exercise of the RU’s emergency management system there is no threat to the Campus. 06/16/16 09:56:56 EDT.
The texts were sent to test the university’s Emergency Notification System (ENS), a program which allows school officials to send text messages to subscribed phones during emergency situations, as deemed by Public Safety.
RU’s emergency drill is part of various safety plans schools across the country try to employ in order to prevent casualties should a shooter target the school.
Recently, a video of a student taking down an armed shooter, resurfaced. In 2014, Aaron Ybarra entered a classroom building at Seattle Pacific University and shot a female student.
When Ybarra paused to reload, student safety monitor Jon Meis tackled the former and used a pepper spray on him.
Meis took Ybarra’s shotgun to another room, then returned to tackle Ybarra. Two other students helped Meis keep Ybarra down before the police arrived.
Ybarra had killed one student, Paul Lee, and wounded two others.
Events like this have only heightened the sense of danger and paranoia about campus safety and security.
A 2014 Police Executive Research Forum analyzed 84 shootings across a decade, spanning from 2000 to 2010. They learned that those who “played dead” were more likely to get attacked by the shooter.
A different emergency system needed to be put in place.
While Rutgers University had the right idea, it was executed poorly, sending students and parents into a state of anxiety and fear.
After the negative reception of the safety drill, Michael Rein, deputy chief of University police, released this statement:
“We recognize that the wording of the initial message caused some concern and alarm amongst recipients… University Public Safety will be making necessary changes to protocols for future training exercises.”
Various colleges around the country use different emergency notification systems to alert the students about important issues, but the systems are not perfect. In 2013, some universities had an ENS, but only a few students were able to receive emergency messages.
In light of the horrifying mass shootings over the years, universities have doubled their security, doing all they can to prepare their staff and students should the need arise to protect themselves from active shooters.