Westminster’s Defense Against Shooters
BY JIM MALVEN
Since the beginning of September, six school shootings have occurred in the United States, with five of them being on college campuses. Three of these shootings happened in the month of October, which is just a dozen days old.
While any school has the possibility of being targeted or victimized by a shooter, Westminster does have several policies and protocols in place to protect its members in the event that a shooting or an attempted shooting ever takes place on campus.
This week, The Columns sat down with the head of campus security, Jack Benke, to find out exactly what those policies are.
According to Benke, the college has four protocols in place to protect against shooters.
First, there is a shooter-specific siren system.
“This would only be used for a situation where we had a shooter on campus,” Benke said.
Because the siren makes a distinct noise that is different than all of the other notifications sirens in Fulton, Benke encouraged everyone to listen to a recording of the warning siren.
Second, after the siren sounded, a series of “mass notification” messages would be sent. Students who sign up for a TextCaster alert messaging service would receive a text message, and for students without cellphones, an email would notify them of the circumstance.
“If students aren’t signed up, I would encourage them to do that,” Benke said.
The messaging service is used for other types of emergencies as well. However, TextCaster is not the only means for alerting campus of an emergency.
“We also have a forced notification system, our campus-wide intercom system, which is our last means of notification on campus,” Benke said.
After this series of notifications, the campus would go into lockdown.
“A lockdown situation is what we would put in place if we had an active shooter on campus,” Benke said. “This is where our key players on campus, as far as faculty, staff, administration, and security would step up into their role and instruct students what to do.” Benke added that faculty and staff are aware of the procedures that they would follow; so are residential advisers, who go through emergency situation training when they first arrive on campus before the school year begins.
However, before the lockdown and the notifications can happen, someone must first notice that something is amiss.
“If you see something, say something,” Benke said. Students should report all incidents to a security officer by calling campus security at 573-592-5555 or by visiting the campus security office located on Westminster Avenue across from the Quad. In the case of an emergency, students should call 911 immediately.
“For the most part, we have one officer on duty at any one time,” Benke said, noting that Westminster has seven officers in total.
When an officer is on duty, he or she is either stationed in the security office or responding to calls, which could include anything from unlocking students’ doors, to acting as first responders in emergency situations.
Security officers go through a training regimen when they are hired, which includes training in first response. They also have quarterly training sessions. Benke said that these are not only “good refreshers,” but that they “update [officers] on any type of changes that we might have in our emergency response plan, which is reviewed and updated annually.”
In addition to campus security, the college is protected by local law enforcement.
“We’re very reliant on the Fulton Police,” Benke said. “We have an outstanding working relationship with [them] and with the Callaway County Sheriff’s Department, and they provide a great deal of support for us.”
Benke said that while no one can predict how likely it is for a shooting to occur, the most important thing is to make sure everyone is educated.
“We don’t know when or where these situations are going to happen, so I think all we can do is be very aware of our surroundings . . . That’s all we can do, be prepared,” Benke said.